With the launch of iPhone X in 2017, Apple took the decision to do away with fingerprint sensors as it moved in the direction of an all-screen smartphone. While the Cupertino-based iPhone maker has identified Face ID as a practical solution for biometric authentication, there are a number of users who continue to report that lack of a fingerprint sensor can get daunting at times. And if a new patent filed by Apple is anything to go by then we might see the company bringing back the feature with a future generation of iPhone lineup.
Patently Apple has spotted a patent titled “Methods of biometric imaging of input surfaces” that was recently granted to Apple by the US Patent and Trademark Office. The patent describes an acoustic imaging system that can be used to map a high resolution image or biometric of something like a fingerprint placed on the surface. It further describes using an acoustic transducer to convert electrical signals into mechanical energy and vice versa. It illustrates a mechanical wave being produced when the finger is placed on the display and it is then converted into an electrical signal using the transducer.
The signal will then be reconstructed into an image of a fingerprint used for biometric authentication. The patent won’t be limited to just fingerprint and explains how the technology could be used to see things beyond fingerprint and could include image of your palm, ear, cheek or face. There could be a scenario where the device could authenticate the user when they place an iPhone next to their ear, for example, while taking a call, the user could be authenticated for an incoming call.
The patent also aligns with Apple’s strategy of gathering more medical data of users and helping them stay fit through devices like Apple Watch. The technology is described as capable of recording vitals of a person like heart and respiration rates. Since the patent describes Apple adding an in-display fingerprint sensor does not mean that the company will be bringing one to an iPhone immediately.
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In the past, Apple has received patent for several other technological features, which have never made it to a retail device. With Apple having set the future of iPhone into an all-screen device and Face ID becoming the de facto standard of authentication, there is a possibility that this patent only describes technological validity of such a feature. It could even be possible that Apple tried this technology around the launch of iPhone X but could not get it ready in time and then decided to go with Face ID instead.