Now Apple wants your fingerprint data along with your name, address, phone number, your thoughts, habits and all the stuff that I forgot to mention.
June 26, 2013, 12:51 p.m. EDT
By Nigam Arora
The secret of a potential fingerprint reader in future iPhones became public last week.
Last year, Apple bought a company by the name of AuthenTec, paying $356 million. AuthenTec offers fingerprint security solutions and has been developing new fingerprint technologies. Next, a patent application was filed by Apple, leading me to believe fingerprint scanning is coming to iPhones.
The secret of fingerprint readers became public in Application Number 20130154031 filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In this case, Apple reduces the size of the fingerprint reader (which I’ll address further below) by encasing the die and the bezel in a unitary encapsulation.
For the sake of simplicity, a fingerprint reader consists of two basic components. First is a die that contains the sensor and circuits. The second is a conductive bezel.
There are three basic types of fingerprint sensors; optical, ultrasonic, and capacitive. Within the capacitive category, there are passive capacitance sensors and active capacitance sensors.
There are many different embodiments of these technologies. In one embodiment, a small current is injected into the finger that is to be sensed using a conductive bezel. The bezel is typically at the upper edge of the die and is either parallel or coplanar with the top die surface. The point is to bring the finger in contact with the bezel and the die at the same time.
In traditional devices, the die and the bezel are packaged in the sensor assembly leading to a large size. Such a large size limits design options. Apple’s innovation is simple and based on common sense, it simply involves integrating the die and the bezel in one encapsulation.
Here is the abstract of the patent application:
“A biometric sensor device, such as a fingerprint sensor, comprises a substrate to which is mounted a die on which is formed a sensor array and at least one conductive bezel. The die and the bezel are encased in a unitary encapsulation structure to protect those elements from mechanical, electrical, and environmental damage, yet with a portion of the sensor array and the bezel exposed or at most thinly covered by the encapsulation or other coating material structure.”
Given all of the security and privacy concerns, a fingerprint reader for cell phones makes a lot of sense. The technology for fingerprint reading is well developed and commonplace in laptops and fingerprint-based access-control systems. Have you ever wondered why the present-day mobile phones do not come with standard built-in fingerprint scanners? The size issue was one of the reasons.
Apple stock has lost about 40% of its value, in part because the company has lately failed to introduce products with enough innovations that differentiate them from the competitors. In my view, a fingerprint reader on a future iPhone will be a major innovation, will be popular and will help the iPhone stand out in the mobile phone market.
Previous implementations of fingerprint readers in phones have not been elegant. Part of Apple’s legacy is taking existing technologies and putting them together in an elegant package. A move like this would be in keeping with that legacy.
The pace of innovation at Apple has slowed, but as the foregoing shows, it has not stopped. This is one of the reasons it make sense to hold a small quantity of Apple stock in a diversified portfolio especially considering that Apple stock is inexpensive based on traditional fundamental measures, has a rock-solid balance sheet, and offers a secure 3% dividend that is likely to grow.
Disclosure: Subscribers to The Arora Report have a long position in Apple .