Last year, there was a race among OEMs like Apple and Samsung to get their respective under-display fingerprint technology ready in time for their flagship phones. Things, however, did not pan out as planned and while Apple completely ditched Touch ID on the iPhone X, Samsung had to stick to using the traditional fingerprint scanner tech on the Galaxy Note 8.
Even for the Galaxy S9, Samsung could not get the tech ready in time and had to use the same fingerprint scanner tech on the handset as its previous Galaxy devices. This was despite Vivo, a Chinese OEM, showing off a phone with under-display fingerprint scanner tech at CES 2018 — a couple of months before Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S9 at MWC 2018. It was widely expected that Samsung would end up getting the under-display fingerprint scanner tech ready in time for the Galaxy Note 9. However, as per KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Samsung will not be using the tech on its next Note.
This is not because the tech is not ready but because the solutions from Qualcomm and Samsung’s LSI department are not able to meet the Korean company’s technical requirements. Kuo says that under-display fingerprint scanners do not work properly with screen protectors and their performance is also affected in different environments.
Despite this, Kuo is optimistic about the technology and says that it is important for full-screen designs on smartphones. And in spite of the increasing popularity of face unlock among OEMs, under-display fingerprint scanner will gain popularity eventually as face unlock is simply not as reliable as a fingerprint scanner.
We recognize that under-display fingerprint recognition is key for full-screen designs, and we don’t think that facial recognition can fully replace fingerprint recognition. For these reasons, we remain positive on this technology over the long term. Also, as under-display fingerprint recognition module has a unit price 4-6 times that of capacitive fingerprint recognition module (or higher), we think that once the former module goes into mass production, the contribution to suppliers’ sales and profits will be significant.
Kuo sees Samsung being the leader of under-display fingerprint scanner technology, though he now expects the tech to be widely adopted by OEMs only in 2019.
Given the issues with under-display fingerprint scanner technology, it is unlikely that we will see Apple introduce it on the 2018 iPhones. If anything, the company might consider introducing it on its 2019 iPhone lineup once the tech is more mature. But then, given Apple’s habit of ditching a popular tech for something new, the chances of even that happening look pretty slim. However, given that Android OEMs won’t have access to a tech similar to Apple’s TrueDepth camera for at least the next couple of years, they don’t have much of a choice but to use the under-display fingerprint scanner tech in their future devices.