At Snapdragon Summit in Hawaii, Qualcomm is announcing 3D Sonic Max as larger and more secure version of its ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. The company first announced ultrasonic fingerprint sensor as an alternative for optical sensor last year. The sensor uses sound waves to map the ridges on your finger and unlock the device. The technology was termed to be faster and more secure than optical sensors seen on devices from brands like Oppo, OnePlus and Huawei. Samsung became the only smartphone brand to support the technology on its devices like the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10 series.
Qualcomm 3D Sonic Max improves on speed and security
While the ultrasonic sensor appeared on the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10, it did not quite match the promise. First, the sensor was widely criticized by Galaxy users for being slow to unlock the device. Later, it was revealed that these sensors are not as secure as promised by Qualcomm. In October, a British woman discovered a flaw that would allow anyone to unlock a Galaxy S10. While Samsung and Qualcomm patched the flaw, the woman only needed a $3 silicone screen protector to exploit the flaw. Now, Qualcomm is trying ultrasonic again with 3D Sonic Max.
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The big change with 3D Sonic Max over its predecessor is that the sensor is big. The fingerprint sensor used on the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10 measured 4mm by 9mm in dimension. This resulted in a fingerprint recognition area of 36 square millimeter. The company then introduced a new model with recognition area of 8mm by 8mm, translating to recognition equivalent of 64 square millimeter. The 3D Sonic Max, on the other hand, measures 20mm by 30mm in dimension and takes the recognition area to a whopping 600 square millimeter. The sensor is so big that it even supports two finger recognition simultaneously.
At MWC earlier this year, Gordon Thomas, Director, Product Management on Qualcomm 3D Sonic Sensor, told BGR India that the company is working on a larger 20 x 30 mm sensor. He also confirmed that this sensor will be commercialized in the second half of 2019. Now, at Snapdragon Summit, the company is making the sensor official. The company also explained that this new sensor won’t suffer from the issues seen with first generation sensors. The Alex Katouzian, Senior VP and GM of Mobile at Qualcomm told CNET that the company has built new anti-spoofing algorithms.
“We were able to, with machine learning algorithms, recognize the difference between a pattern on a silicone cover and a pattern of an image capture. A very, very limited amount of screen covers did that,” Katouzian told CNET. With a fingerprint area that is 17 times bigger, Qualcomm says users don’t have to precisely place their finger on the sensor. With the sensor, the ease of use as well as security goes up for end consumers. It is not possible to predict whether 3D Sonic Max will never be spoofed but it does bring extra layers of security.
Another area where the sensor really makes a leap is unlock speeds. Since it covers a larger area and collects more data about your fingerprint, it can be faster to unlock the device. Depending on how you place your finger on the sensor, the experience can be faster. While Samsung announced plans to use the sensor last year, there is no confirmation from the Korean company this year. However, Qualcomm says that it has received commitment from customers to use the technology.
There is even a possibility that Apple will use this new sensor on its 2020 iPhone lineup. On Tuesday, the Economic Daily News reported that the iPhone maker is considering use of under-display fingerprint scanner for next year’s iPhone. The report claimed that Apple plans to use Qualcomm’s ultrasonic fingerprint sensor on at least one iPhone mode in 2020. Katouzian told media that there are handset makers interested in 3D Sonic Max but is not revealing their names. The new sensor will official arrive on smartphones sometime in 2020. The San Diego-based company is also working on a sensor that will cover the entire display.