At its most recent financial analyst day, human-computer interface solutions vendor Synaptics (NASDAQ:SYNA) tried to make the case that fingerprint scanners embedded inside of smartphone displays are superior to 3D facial recognition technology.
Unsurprisingly, Synaptics doesn't sell 3D facial recognition technology but it did just announce that it had gone into mass production on a new in-display fingerprint scanning solution.
Faster, more convenient, and more secure
The first argument that Synaptics makes is that its in-display fingerprint recognition solution is twice as fast as 3D facial recognition technology. Synaptics doesn't provide hard data, it cites "internal studies." Since there's only one commercially available 3D facial recognition technology on the market -- Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Face ID -- it seems likely that Synaptics compared its own in-display fingerprint scanning solution to Apple's Face ID.
I'm inclined to believe Synaptics' findings: Several websites have compared the speed of Apple's own Touch ID technology to its Face ID technology and concluded that Touch ID unlocks devices faster, so Synaptics' claim seems reasonable.
That being said, I don't think Apple's current Face ID technology is maxed out in terms of speed -- it's a first-generation implementation that could very well get zippier in time. Fingerprint authentication, on the other hand, is quite a mature technology so the opportunities for speedups may be limited.
Synaptics goes on to claim that in-display fingerprint recognition is more convenient than 3D facial recognition. This seems as though it'd come down to personal preference as well as the implementations of each type of technology.
Finally, Synaptics claims that in-display fingerprint recognition is more secure than 3D facial recognition. Apple, on the other hand, claims that its Face ID implementation is, save for some special situations (e.g. users are related, or users are under the age of 13), more secure than Touch ID.
Both in-display fingerprint recognition and 3D facial recognition have their drawbacks and their merits, so at this point it's hard to objectively call one technology superior to another. To the extent that in-display fingerprint recognition takes off, however, Synaptics seems poised to benefit because it appears to have a technology readiness advantage over other fingerprint recognition vendors.
For what it's worth, Synaptics -- citing market research firm IHS as well as its own internal estimates -- thinks that the in-display fingerprint scanning opportunity will reach over 400 million units by calendar a year 2021.
However, the big risk to Synaptics' in-display fingerprint scanning ambitions is this: Apple seems to be going all-in on its 3D facial recognition technology and Apple generally sets industry trends. Many major smartphone manufacturers looking to compete with Apple seem to think the best way to compete is to try to copy (and, in some cases, extend) Apple's technology choices and directions.
Ashraf Eassa has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.