Fingerprint light blue

After months of rumors and speculation, evidence popped up last month seemingly confirming that future iOS devices will have built-in fingerprint sensors. Code was found hidden in iOS 7 that refers directly to the feature, suggesting we could see it as soon as this year.

The idea, though, of Apple putting fingerprint sensors in its mobile devices spawns a number of questions like: what will it be used for, how will it work, and how durable will it be? Luckily, biometric authentication expert Geppy Parziale has decided to impart some of his wisdom…

Geppy has over 15 years of professional experience in pattern recognition and machine vision, and his patents and inventions in the field of fingerprint capture are used by several government agencies. So needless to say, he is more than qualified to opine on the topic at hand.

Anyway, Geppy writes over at InvasiveCode (via 9to5Mac) that he believes Apple will use a touch-based fingerprint sensor in its upcoming iPhone—versus a touchless sensor, which requires optical lenses and a complex lighting system—and he sees some major issues with that:

“Constant usage of the sensor starts to destroy the capacitors and over time, the fingerprint sensor stops to work. To avoid this issue, during the manufacturing process, the sensor surface is covered by insulating material (essentially silicon, processed to become an insulating layer) that protects the metallic surface. The touchscreen of your iPhone is manufactured in the same way. However, the coating layer on the fingerprint sensor surface cannot be too thick otherwise the electrons from your body cannot reach the metallic surface of the sensor to generate a fingerprint image. So, this protecting layer is thin and only used to extend the life of a sensor, but its continuous usage will destroy its surface, making the device useless.”

But it’s not just the constant usage you have to worry about, he says. Think of all the things you touch throughout the day, and how sweaty and oily your hands and fingers get at times. When you touch the fingerprint sensor, you’ll be depositing all of these things to its surface.

“Fingerprint sensor manufacturers (including Authentec) never achieved great success in this issue which is why it is not common to see fingerprint CMOS devices on laptops, cars, building front doors or credit cards…

Manufacturers can only try to make the fingerprint sensor last longer, but sooner or later that device will stop working properly. Companies like Motorola, Fujitsu, Siemens, and Samsung have tried to integrate fingerprints in their laptops and handheld devices, but they have all failed because of the poor durability of the sensing surface.”

With these things in mind, it’s hard to imagine what Apple has planned for its fingerprint sensors. Anything you can think of—device unlock, activating a device with a wireless carrier, mobile payments—all require that the sensor be fully working and accurate 100% of the time.

And it doesn’t sound like that’s possible with the current state of sensor technology.

So does Apple know something that others don’t? That’s hard to say right now, but we should know more in a few months. The new iPhone, believed to be the iPhone 5S, is expected to launch this fall with upgraded internals, a better camera, and yes a built-in fingerprint sensor.

What do you think about all of this?

  • iosPixel

    This really puts a downer on the whole thing.

    Albeit a needed dose of realism. Shame.

    • If fingerprint sensors are failing this much, there’s gotta be something special that HP did with its Pavilion laptops, ’cause the one in my 2008 HP laptop is still functioning flawlessly today. Apple could perhaps copy and patent something from HP’s Pavilion line…

      • Mohammed Sahib

        How many times do you use the sensor on your laptop per day? How many times do you unlock your iPhone in the same day?

      • I do the latter at least 10 times more, as Digital Persona (the driver software) doesn’t support Chrome. However, from the sound of the article, we’re not seeing fingerprint sensors in Laptops due to the poor durability of the sensing surface; which clearly isn’t the case with my 2008 HP laptop…

      • invasivecode

        Do you work for HP? That thing sucks.

      • Guest

        Your mum sucks dick…

      • invasivecode

        Worst, you work for RIM.

      • No, I choose a product that works for me. Sucks no worse than your Macbook…

      • Guest

        Wanna know what else sucks? Your mama…

      • Eric

        Yes, I have the HP Tablet “cousin” to your 2008 Pavilion – and I have experienced often frustration when my fingerprint is not correctly read, after swiping several times.

        That being said, in response to the above article – maybe Apple is using a tough, durable surface like Crystal Sapphire?

        A crystal sapphire is only 2nd to a Diamond in hardness, so resistance to oils etc should be no problem.

      • Does yours appear like a silver strip with a goldish strip on top? Myne is just a tube being held in place by some hard plastic on both ends.

        Regarding using crystal sapphire, I don’t think that will allow electrons through it, but we shall see what magic Apple patents…

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  • Gus Me

    If this turns out to be true, we could see another antennagate. I myself think that a fingerprint sensor would be cool, but will probably just end up being gimmicky. I work outside, so that might cause the sensor to deteriorate even faster. Hopefully it will be an option and not a must use thing.

    • mav3rick

      apple giving user options…

  • Chris Gilmore

    It’s hard to believe Apple would be this gimmicky. A fingerprint scanner seems like something a middle schooler would think was way cool (or maybe that was just me…) but realistically, what all things could it really do? And I really don’t want to have to unlock my phone with my fingerprint. My phone content is not THAT important.

    • ✪ aidan harris ✪

      The contents of your device may not be important to you rendering such a feature useless to you but those that value their personal information and data would likely welcome such a feature…

      • Chris Gilmore

        I understand where you’re coming from. But it’s nothing a 4 digit number can’t hide.

      • ✪ aidan harris ✪

        Technically yes but you forget computers can crack four digit pass codes in under ten minutes (I’ve seen it done)

      • ✪ aidan harris ✪

        Technically yes but you forget computers can crack four digit pass codes in under ten minutes (I’ve seen it done)

      • Chris Gilmore

        True. But where I live, nobody knows how to do that. Lol small country town.

      • Farbod

        apple isn’t designing its products for people in “where you live” its designing its products for all kinds of people, some which are much more professional people than us, businessmen, professors which store their articles and lectures in their iDevices.

      • dedegarrido

        Considering security is their next big innovation, a fingerprint sensor will be a huge thing. Imagine the activation lock working combined with the fingerprint sensor, unlocking your phone, payments, keychain being integrated with the fingerprint as well…. it’s a huge thing. Their innovation thing might be… you don’t have to actually remind anymore of a passcode, it just works like magic. Put your finger there and it unlocks things.

      • mav3rick

        Not for those but for some that put a higher value on others information.

    • iBanks

      I would hope that once this iWallet feature comes to be real, your contents are considered more important.

      • Chris Gilmore

        Just as easy to use a password though. I just mean that this fingerprint thing isn’t worth all the headache it’s gonna cause. For the record, I hope I eat my words, Apple. I want them to succeed.

  • Hmmm, guess I don’t use my HP Laptop’s (Pavilion dv3510nr) fingerprint reader that much, but it’s still working flawlessly since I got it in 2008. I use it mostly to login to Windows, and once in a blue moon to sign into websites via IE, since Digital Persona doesn’t support Chrome…

    I’m no biometric expert, but perhaps it’s somehow categorized as a touchless sensor, even though I technically have to touch and swipe my finger over it…

  • Cesar D

    GREAT! This will work to save my porn in 😀

  • CollegiateLad

    This guy is clueless. At the hospital I work at, we use fingerprint sensors to access medications for patients. Our medication drawers are accessed thousands of times per day every single day by doctors, nurses, pharmacists and pharmacy techs. It’s called a Pyxis system and it has never gone down or stopped working in the nearly two years I’ve been employed there.

    This guy doesn’t sound like an expert to me.

    • Eva Diaz-Santana

      I recommend you read the article again and you research a bit more about the type of sensor you use everyday.

      In the documentation of your Pyxis system:
      “IC sensors…their fragility and unreliability make them inappropriate choices for secure healthcare applications.”

      And indeed, an optical sensor is used in your machine.

  • Yunsar

    I can imagine ‘fingergate’

    • Dani Hayes

      or fingerbang.