The evolutionary history of fingerprint sensors on phones dates back to 2007 when phones like Toshiba G500 and HTC P6 500 launched with massive optical fingerprint readers. Thereafter, these biometric readers kept popping up sporadically till the feature finally became mainstream with the launch of Apple iPhone 5s in 2013. Android officially adopted fingerprint sensors a couple of years later with Android Marshmallow (Nexus 6P and Nexus 5A).
While Google and a few other OEMs have shown a preference for rear-mounted sensors, most of the phones launched between 2007 and 2017, including those from brands like Samsung, Apple, Vivo, Oppo, and Huawei, have had it on the front.
In our opinion, that’s where they belong.
Do in-display fingerprint sensors make sense?
When you are holding your phone face-up, it’s more natural to simply flex your thumb and unlock rather than to stretch your index finger all the way to the top – especially since the use of 18:9 and 19:9 and 19.5:9 screens have made phones taller. They are also more accessible when your phone is resting on your table.
Our opinion is further corroborated by the meteoric rise of Face unlock since the fingerprint readers had to be shifted to the back in order to accommodate swanky bezel-free and notch-ridden screens. Which is to say, many people do prefer biometric unlock mechanisms on the front.
But all that is perhaps in the past now, as 2019 will mark the return of the fingerprint sensor to the front.
Vivo has been the pioneer in this technology, and at the time of writing, it is the only player bringing phones with in-display fingerprint readers to India. We have experienced the technology progress through to the fourth generation from Vivo X21, to Nex and to the more affordable V11 Pro – and it does make sense.
These in-display readers aren’t as consistent or accurate as comparable capacitive sensors, but if you are diligent during setup, they do prove to be quite convenient. The Vivo V11 Pro, for instance, has an option to combine both face and fingerprint unlock. Instead of reaching for the power button, you can simply place your thumb on the in-display fingerprint reader icon to trigger the fast face unlock. Something similar also surfaced in the recently launched Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
We will see a lot more of them next year
Very soon, OnePlus will join the fray with the upcoming OnePlus 6T that uses the second-generation optical fingerprint sensor and many others will follow suit.
Oppo, for instance, has launched a slew of in-display fingerprint sensor phones in China in the last couple of months and there are good chances that one or the other will be making it to India soon after the OnePlus 6T launch.
Apart from the BBK triumvirate, Xiaomi will also be bringing optical fingerprint sensors to more phones, including the upcoming Mi Mix 3.
But it’s Samsung’s implementation that we are quite excited about. The South Korean giant has been experimenting with under display fingerprint sensors for several years now and has finally sided with Qualcomm’s ultrasound sensors that are supposed to be faster than conventional optical in-display sensors we have seen so far. Going by a recent leak, Samsung has developed technology to place selfie camera, earpiece and all other prerequisites under its AMOLED panels.
If reports from supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is to be believed, Apple won’t be switching back to the front mounted in-display fingerprint sensors in 2019. The Cupertino giant has gone all-in for its Face ID and allegedly doesn’t see the need for any extra authentication system in the foreseeable future.
The way forward
But yes, on the Android side of things, in-display fingerprint sensors are expected to shine in 2019. Apart from being easily accessible, these biometric readers will eventually evolve to offer advantages like operability with wet fingers, and more designated screen area to scan your digits. On the downside, they will add to the cost of phones and their repairs, and will also make them a hair thicker.
But yes, bezel-less screens aren’t going anywhere, and the only way forward is to shift mandatory front components underneath. And early signs are indications that we are going to make substantial progress on that front next year.