Smartphone fingerprint tech set to go mainstream this year

2015-07-03 11:09Global Times Editor: Li Yan

Fingerprint authentication is expected to become a much more common feature available on Chinese smartphones this year, as sensors get cheaper and Google's integration of the technology with its next version of Android will makes it easier for app developers to adopt.

The highly advanced gismo, first introduced by Motorola to handsets in 2011 and popularized by Apple Inc with its iPhone 5s in 2013, is now being widely used by Chinese companies as a major selling point to reach consumers in the red-hot smartphone battleground.

Gothenburg-based Fingerprint Cards AB's fingerprint verification technology has already been used in Huawei Technologies's premium phone Ascend Mate 7 and the R7 Plus from the Guangdong-based handset maker Oppo.

On Tuesday, Huawei brought the technology to the next iteration of its Honor sub-brand, the Honor 7. On the same day, rising domestic smartphone maker Meizu also added the fingerprint recognition function to its latest smartphone MX5. Following this on Wednesday, Leshi Internet Information and Technology Corp, a leading online video provider, unveiled its flagship Le Max, featuring fingerprint recognition, to great fanfare.

"Fingerprint authentication will be something that almost all Chinese smartphone makers will embrace this year, as sensor costs are getting lower and lower," Wang Yanhui, head of Shanghai-based Mobile China Alliance, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Fingerprint Cards CEO Jörgen Lantto was quoted by US-based IT media IDG News Service in late June as saying that half of the smartphones sold worldwide in 2016 will adopt the feature. According to Lantto, sensor prices have been reduced by about 25 percent in 2014. "The price will continue to drop as volumes rise," said Wang.

Shenzhen Huiding Technology Co, a leading fingerprint sensor supplier, already increased its production and improved its technology, making the fingerprint authentication available in the near future on low-end smartphones that cost around 1,500 yuan ($241), Wang noted.

Domestic smartphone maker Coolpad may price its new generation of fingerprint-sensing-enabled Dazen smartphones, which are set to be released on July 13, at 1,500 yuan, domestic news portal reported on Wednesday.

The native support for fingerprint sensors in Google's Android M operating system, launched in late May, is seen to be another reason that could prompt the technology to take off on a large scale this year.

This makes Android app developers and smartphone makers more willing to use the technology, said Wang.

Analysts believe that the feature could hold a great deal of appeal.

"As mobile payments increasingly become mainstream, fingerprint authentication will likely be something that is needed, enabling consumers to pay bills online, which is more convenient and much safer than typing passwords on the screen," Wang Jun, an industry analyst with Beijing-based market research firm Analysys International, told the Global Times.

But currently, the feature still falls short of expectations of consumers like Zhao Mudan, an iPhone 5s user.

"I've stopped using the function, because sometimes it doesn't work effectively when my fingers are too wet," the 30-year-old Beijing resident told the Global Times Wednesday.

Li Xiaoxi, 31, has not tried the feature on her iPhone 6 Plus yet, worrying that she will not be able to unlock the phone if her fingers are dirty.

To address such concerns, US chip maker Qualcomm is working on a new fingerprint reader which uses ultrasonic waves to recognize a user's fingerprint in 3D. Unlike most fingerprint sensors in the market, Qualcomm claimed in a statement in March that its Snapdragon Sense ID technology can read fingerprints even if they are slightly dirty or wet.

What's more, Qualcomm's fingerprint reader can scan through glass, plastics, aluminum and stainless steel, which analysts said enables phone makers to integrate the feature into handset designs, instead of having a section made of other materials to support the reader.

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