A new patent adds fuel to the fire that Apple will restore Touch ID to the iPhone but, unlike previous iPhones where it sat next to the display, and unlike the iPad Air where it lives in the power button, this Touch ID will be beneath the display itself. Just as excitingly, it will be found in just the same place in an upcoming Apple Watch.
Apple won’t be the first to put a fingerprint sensor under the display but it’s never been frantic to be first, if it can do it right.
But no smartwatch maker has put anything like this in their devices. It would useful for authenticating payments or other higher-security actions on the Watch without having to enter a passcode, which is what happens every time you put the Watch on.
This patent, seen by Patently Apple, refers to an optical fingerprint sensor which may be sized to recognize a single finger and would work at speed. There are challenges to make such a sensor work, such as consistency of performance which may fail over time because the nature of what’s referred to as “glass-air interfaces” are not always stable.
So, the idea in the patent is “an apparatus for fingerprint sensing with a narrow field-of view (NFV) collimator and an organic imager. The apparatus includes a touch-display layer, a collimator layer and a pixelated image sensor.”
No, don’t worry, me neither, I had to look collimator up. It means “a device which narrows a beam of particles or waves”.
The patent refers to a touch-display layer and this could be an OLED display with thin transparent layer. This, happily, is a situation evidenced in every iPhone 12 variant and every Apple Watch ever. The pixelated image sensor is the bit that can sense the carefully aligned reflected light.
“The surface touching the transparent layer is a surface of a human finger including ridges and valleys, and the collimator layer’s purpose is to separate weak reflections resulting from angled illumination of walls of valleys.”
Which is rather poetic. There’s lots more technical stuff in the patent, of the kind that we can be glad we don’t have to be troubled with. The point is that the patent is something that Apple points out in the patent could be readily put into an iPhone screen or that of the Apple Watch.
The usual warning applies: this is a patent so Apple may not put it in the very next iPhone (though the rumors that it will are growing by the week), or indeed any future product.
But the prospect is appealing.
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