It's only been few years since Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) added fingerprint sensors to their high-end smartphones, but there's already new technology that's making mobile fingerprint scanners faster, more reliable, and more secure.
Just before micro electro-mechanical system (MEMS) maker InvenSense (NYSE:INVN) reported its quarterly earnings last month, the company announced its new UltraPrint fingerprint sensor, which could far outpace current sensors on the market.
The new ultrasound sensor would allow companies like Apple and Samsung to not only improve the quality of fingerprint detection, but also make it possible to put the sensor directly behind a smartphone screen, or on the back of the device.
InvenSense said in statement that the UltraPrint could "seamlessly integrate, on a platform proven capable of accommodating exceptionally high volumes, detailed fingerprint images from the epidermal to dermal layers, and to do so directly through glass or metal, even in the presence of oil, lotions, perspiration or other moisture, and other common contaminants that can easily undermine legacy capacitive solutions."
The new technology could open up new iPhone form factors for Apple by eliminating the space on the device reserved for the Touch ID sensor and home button.
Do companies really want this?
First off all, Apple and Samsung are typically on the lookout for new technology that will make their devices incrementally better. It's exactly the reason Apple introduces features like 3D Touch, which provides a new, slightly better experience on its iPhone. And adding a more accurate fingerprint sensor that can be placed behind the display would open up more screen real estate for the company, and it fits into Apple fingerprint rumors that have already surfaced.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster believes there's a 50% chance Apple will remove its home button in the iPhone 7 and move the Touch ID sensor somewhere else on the phone. Similarly, AppleInsider says Apple may be likely to do this, but probably not until 2017.
Analysts from Pacific Crest Securities went even further in a research note published on Barron's over the summer, saying that Apple is likely looking to go back to an outcell form of displays so it can add an embedded fingerprint sensor into the glass:
We believe there are several reasons why Apple is planning to move away from incell longer-term including: 1) Incell displays have a performance issue with touch sensitivity, particularly at the edges of the screen. A move back to an outcell structure would actually improve the touch performance of the iPhone; 2) Embedded fingerprint sensing is extremely difficult to support on an incell display. Given the architecture of incell touch displays, there is inherently much more noise on the display versus outcell, making it extremely difficult if not impossible to support fingerprint-sensing inside the liquid crystal display (LCD). [Emphasis added.]
Interestingly enough, AppleInsider thinks this won't happen until 2017, which is the same year InvenSense says production of the sensor will ramp up. Of course, it's not a slam dunk that Apple will use InvenSense's fingerprint sensor, but as the company is already a major supplier for Apple right now, it's not out of the question.
And it's not just Apple and InvenSense that envision advanced fingerprint sensors as another incremental smartphone technology. One feature Qualcomm has been showing off for its new high-end Snapdragon 820 processor is its ability to power the next generation of fingerprint sensors that are located behind a smartphone's glass panel.
What this means for InvenSense
It's likely too late for Apple to implement InvenSense's tech into the iPhone 7, but the next iteration after that could likely see the change. Of course, Apple isn't InvenSense's only customer, and if other original equipment manufacturers want the the ultrasound fingerprint technology, they now know where to find it.
With Qualcomm promoting such a feature, and Samsung being InvenSense's second biggest customer, it's likely that InvenSense has a good shot at brining the new fingerprint sensor into some popular mobile devices. Considering the company just announced the technology a few weeks ago, it's still too early to make predictions on how much it could add to the company's bottom line. But if mobile leaders like Qualcomm and Apple are already interested in the technology, then it's a good indicator that InvenSense is heading down the right path with this one.
Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple, InvenSense, and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.