Apple patent offers an alternative fingerprint method to Touch ID

Apple has been granted a patent (number 9,747,488) for an “active sensing element for acoustic imaging systems,” which suggests rumors that Touch ID will be replaced in the upcoming “iPhone 8” by an alternative fingerprint ID method may be accurate.

In the patent filing, Apple notes that many electronic devices include security features to prevent unauthorized access. For example, a device can include a biometric sensor configured to establish a user's identity by determining whether obtained biometric data matches known biometric data of an authorized user. A fingerprint imaging system is one example of a biometric sensor. 

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However, Apple says that sometimes the performance of a biometric sensor may be affected by the precision with which biometric data can be detected. Although increased precision may lead to improved security for the electronic device, it may also result in a physical reduction in the size of one or more components of the sensor. For example, a high-precision fingerprint imaging system may require smaller imaging sensors than low-precision imaging systems. 

The quality of a signal obtained from physically smaller components is often negatively affected by the components' smaller size, according to Apple. For example, small imaging sensors may detect less image information than large imaging sensors, generating lower-amplitude signals that may be more sensitive to interference. In other cases, small imaging sensors may be more susceptible to signal distortion from environmental conditions (e.g., temperature, pressure, humidity, and so on) than larger imaging sensors. 

To account for the lower signal quality that may be associated with smaller components, Apple says that many biometric sensors may require advanced signal processing capability that may increase power consumption and processing delays of the system. As a result, high-precision biometric sensors may be difficult to include within electronic devices having limited power and processing resources. Apple’s alternative? An “acoustic fingerprint imaging system having a plurality of acoustic elements, each acoustic element including a transducer, and independent drive and sense circuitry.” Of course, there’s also the rumor that the Touch ID in the iPhone 8 will be replaced by facial recognition tech. We should find out this month exactly what Apple has planned.

Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.