We’ve been waiting years for this moment, and it looks like Qualcomm will be the first one to deliver on our dreams: fingerprint scanners that go directly underneath your phone’s display panel. At MWC Shanghai today, Qualcomm announced that it will be supplying these futuristic scanners – a new business for the company – starting in Summer 2018.
Qualcomm’s design utilizes the company’s previously-announced ultrasonic fingerprint detection method. Because of its use of ultrasonics – as opposed to capacitance – Qualcomm says this fingerprint scanner design makes it much easier to “see” through your smartphone’s display panel to take a fingerprint read… as long as it’s not too thick. The catch is that Qualcomm’s design will only work when implemented on an OLED panel under 1200 μm thick. That leaves LCDs out of the running.
Qualcomm’s sensor can even go beyond reading fingerprints, with the ability to detect heart rate and blood flow, something a traditional capacitive fingerprint scanner really isn’t capable of. And yes, it works with the screen on or off – it doesn’t matter. Qualcomm says its solution will be just as quick as fingerprint scanners on modern high-end smartphones, and it even works underwater, where capacitive fingerprint scanners are basically useless. Because the sensor sits under the display panel, there’s also no hole that needs to be drilled into the device to add it in anymore, making producing a waterproof smartphone even easier.
Qualcomm also announced two other basic scanner designs that utilize its ultrasonic technology and can be placed directly under metal or glass (but not under a display). Those scanners will begin shipping much sooner, with the under-display version arriving latest, as per the timeline in the image above. Interestingly, Qualcomm specifically points out that all its scanners will work with non-Qualcomm chipsets, potentially positioning Qualcomm very suddenly as a major player in the fingerprint scanner business.