A little more than a year ago, Apple acquired AuthenTec, a company specialising in mobile security, and the end product of the acquisition is the Touch ID fingerprint sensor found on the iPhone 5s, which has been widely appreciated for its ease of use and convenience.
On Tuesday night, AuthenTec cofounder F. Scott Moody spoke at North Carolina State University, telling students more about the acquisition, and how several rounds of iterations ultimately led to the final Touch ID sensor. He also demoed an early prototype of the device (predating the Apple acquisition), which was actually a combination of two units, the sensor and a PC.
Moody explained to the students that it’s AuthenTec’s technology behind an 8-millimeter by 8-millimeter sensor found beneath the iPhone 5s home button.
“We’re looking at pores, structures of ridges and valleys, and instantaneously tell who you are,” Moody said. “Every time you use it, it learns more about you. Because it knows, ‘This is Alex,’ every time you use it gets easier and easier.”
While Touch ID on the iPhone 5s is wrapped into a small package, early prototypes of AuthenTec’s sensor, named FingerLoc, were quite bulky, as seen in the image below.
The prototypes did, however, have a similar metal ring around the sensor:
The metal ring around early prototype scanners, just like the one in the iPhone 5s home button, works like a capacitor, sending a signal through the user’s finger that allows it to sense through the outer layer of dead skin, into an inner layer where the skin is alive. Moody said AuthenTec worked closely with a number of dermatologists in development to perfect the technology.
“With other sensors, your ridges would collapse into the valleys. Ours doesn’t,” he said.
AuthenTec’s early prototypes were quite buggy, and resulted in embarrassing product demoes, including one where the sensor wrongly identified IBM’s CTO as an AuthenTec cofounder. But through multiple rounds of iterations combined with improvements in silicon chips, the company was able to make a sensor that attracted a number of companies including Apple and Motorola. From then on, the two companies entered into discussions, which ultimately led to Apple’s $356 million acquisition.