Qualcomm's new fingerprint sensors let you wake up your phone underwater

Qualcomm's latest sensors suggest smartphone vendors are taking "waterproof" capabilities to the next level.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Qualcomm has launched a new range of fingerprint sensors designed for bezel-free phones that can be used underwater.

On Wednesday, the US chip maker said the new range of fingerprint sensors, Under Display, Under Glass, and Under Metal and Glass, has been created in response to the industry's move towards edge-to-edge displays and water-resistant capabilities.

According to Seshu Madhavapeddy, VP of product management at Qualcomm, "the iconic look for smartphones is changing," and the real estate once preserved for home buttons and traditional fingerprint sensors is now up-for-grabs due to the design trend for bezel-less screens on our smartphones.

The executive says that by making premium displays in this way, there is no need to drill holes in the outer casing of our mobile devices, which can make them more resistant to water, oil, and other liquids.

The most convenient place to have a fingerprint sensor would, therefore, be under the display, but in order to do so, a kind of technology which doesn't interfere with the display's light sensors is required.

To tackle this issue, Qualcomm's three new kinds of sensor are all based on ultrasonic technologies, which the company says "comprehensively address these challenges," and allows the sensor to operate through materials including glass and aluminium -- should vendors choose to have a fingerprint sensor on the back of a smartphone.

The Under Glass display, designed for low to mid-range handsets, can support a glass display of up to 800 μm (micrometers).

The Under Display, created for premium phones, can operate with an OLED display of up to 1200 μm, while the Under Metal & Glass model, also benchmarked for high-end handsets, is suitable for glass displays up to 800 μm or 525 μm for aluminum.

While edge-to-edge displays are most commonly found higher up the product ladder and entry-level phones usually have standard bezels, Madhavapeddy says that by offering three kinds of fingerprint sensor, "they will work within the design criteria of smartphone manufacturers."

Qualcomm's second-generation fingerprint sensors are what the company calls a "complete departure" from current designs due to the use of ultrasonic technology.

As the technology focuses on sound waves rather than light, it will not affect the accuracy of either the sensor or a display.

The sensors, which make IP68 smartphone use under water possible by removing the need for a bezel and drill holes, can also double as a heart rate monitor.

By checking for heart rate and the presence of blood flow, Qualcomm says that attackers cannot use templates alone -- and without a pulse -- to crack handsets, which in turn can boost secure authentication.

The sensors are compatible with current versions of the Google Android operating system and are supported by Snapdragon 660 and 630, as well as some non-Snapdragon platforms.

See also: Final BlackBerry, Qualcomm settlement reaches $940 million

Madhavapeddy says the fingerprint sensors are "very robust," and so the common problem of screen cracks or damage should not impair your ability to unlock your device.

Prototypes of the fingerprint sensors installed in new handsets will be shown at MWC Shanghai, designed in partnership with Vivo. Commercial availability is expected in summer 2018.

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