Apple patents fingerprint sensor that works through displays, hints at 'iPhone 8' tech

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in General Discussion
Apple on Tuesday was awarded a patent that, if recent rumors are to be believed, might make its way into next year's iPhone model. Specifically, the company now owns IP covering a fingerprint sensor capable of gathering accurate readings through structures like a device screen.





Source: USPTO




As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the tech described in Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,460,332 for a "Capacitive fingerprint sensor including an electrostatic lens" offers a solution to a major design hurdle presented with the rumored design of next year's iPhone.



According to reports, the 2017 iPhone will do away with the iconic home button to make way for a "full-screen face" comprised of an edge-to-edge OLED display. Instead of the physical Touch ID module seen in contemporary iPhone and iPad devices, Apple is said to be working on a virtual button which presumably carries over the same features and functions.



The home button has been a mainstay of Apple's portable device lineup since the first iPhone launched in 2007. Initially mapped to execute a "return to home" command, home button functionality has expanded to invoke Siri and control security via an embedded Touch ID fingerprint sensor.



Software commands can be easily replicated with graphical buttons (or through a press on modern 3D Touch screens), but how Apple planned to integrate now-standard Touch ID fingerprint technology into a handset lacking a home button was unclear. Today's patent overcomes design hurdles by introducing capacitive sensing technology that works through gaps in space, thereby allowing a future Touch ID module to sit behind iPhone's display.









With common fingerprint sensors, separation between the contact surface where a user places their finger and the capacitive sensing array results in a blurring of the finger's electric field. This can lead to degraded fingerprint image resolutions and decreased recognition accuracy.



To alleviate blurring caused by gaps, Apple proposes the use of electrostatic lenses, which are simply described as one or more patterned conductive layers. Depending on their position, relative voltage and shape, however, the layer or layers are able to shape or bend the electric field associated with a user's finger. This bending can in some cases offset the natural dispersion a finger's electric field experiences as it passes through a dielectric layer or space.



As explained by Apple, electric fields associated with particular points on a finger can be illustrated as a cones. From a contact surface, these cones spread out from their respective apices and commingle with each other, causing the blur mentioned above. Continuing forward with the example, electrostatic lenses are tuned to receive an unshaped cone and produce shaped versions that are subsequently spread across an array of sensing elements to achieve an accurate image of a user's fingerprint.



There is one caveat to the electrostatic design, however. Apple notes a drive ring is needed to supply a AC or DC voltage to a user's finger, electrically coupling the digit and providing a predetermined potential difference between it and the sensing array. A similar solution is used in existing Touch ID hardware.





Cross section of capacitive sensor array (206), electrostatic lenses (304), display stack (402), cover glass (400) and drive ring (406) in one embodiment.




The document goes on to detail a host of possible system configurations, from single-pattern solutions to installations with multiple sensors. Most importantly, the patent covers a scenarios in which an electrostatic lens is used to refine blurring caused by interrupting internal components like displays.



It is unclear if Apple plans to deploy electrostatic lenses in a future iPhone, or if a version of the tech is already present in current Touch ID iterations, though the IP does go a long way in bringing the "full-screen face" design to life. Today's patent is just one piece of a larger puzzle, as hiding a fingerprint sensor behind a handset screen would require numerous enhancements over contemporary technology. For example, to create a clean display surface, Touch ID's drive ring must be completely integrated with, or more likely deleted from, the display cover glass.



Apple's electrostatic lens patent was first filed for in September 2014 and credits Jean-Marie Bussat as its inventor.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    mejsricmejsric Posts: 149member
    Cant innovate anymore, my a$s
    macxpressrepressthismike1argonautpte applejbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 29
    NY1822NY1822 Posts: 621member
    mejsric said:
    Cant innovate anymore, my a$s
    i was about to type the same exact thing
    macxpressrepressthiswatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 29
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,727member
    Samsung will now attempt to market it first and use Apple's patent drawings in its own filings, it will barely function, and Samsung shills and Fandroids will claim Apple is just a "follower".
    macxpressrepressthismike1SpamSandwichnetmageargonautpte applejbdragonnolamacguymejsric
  • Reply 4 of 29
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 5,171member
    mejsric said:
    Cant innovate anymore, my a$s
    Yeah I love when people say that. People don't realize how much stuff Apple actually does innovate for use in its own products. They don't see things like battery technology, Taptic feedback engines, advanced touch screens, finger print readers, the new W1 wireless chip, etc. It all just works and works quite well. Just because Apple isn't releasing new products every month doesn't mean they're sitting on their asses doing nothing.
    sflocal said:
    Samsung will now attempt to market it first and use Apple's patent drawings in its own filings, it will barely function, and Samsung shills and Fandroids will claim Apple is just a "follower".
    Maybe someday, Samsung will learn that it doesn't matter who is first. It matters who does it better than everyone else in the end.
    edited October 2016 mike1argonautpte applenolamacguywatto_cobratycho24
  • Reply 5 of 29
    So, even if Apple filed this patent back in 2014, with them finally being awarded the patent now, what are the chances this technology actually gets implemented into iPhone 8 (if next year's isn't an S but actual 8)? Does Apple start developing and use technologies they haven't gotten a patent on? 
    edited October 2016
  • Reply 7 of 29
    I'm sure others are thinking the same thing—no way Apple ships an iPhone with a metal drive ring embedded in the glass screen, which would segment the UI into two sections because you cannot expand a full-screen UI across a ring of dead space (no pixels).

    I thought the idea behind a full-screen UI would be to radically simplify the UX (a design principle Apple prides themselves on) leaving just the content, in full-screen glory. 
    edited October 2016
  • Reply 8 of 29
    blueeddie said:
    So, even if Apple filed this patent back in 2014, with them finally being awarded the patent now, what are the chances this technology actually gets implemented into iPhone 8 (if next year's isn't an S but actual 8)? Does Apple start developing and use technologies they haven't gotten a patent on? 
    A technology needs to be developed to the point of working before you can get a patent for it.  Basically, a patent needs to describe something well enough that another person/company with the appropriate skills could make one.  That doesn't mean it has to work well or that you have to be able to produce it at commercial scale. There might be a lot of work still to do after you obtain a patent and that could in turn lead to additional patents.
    repressthisfastasleep
  • Reply 9 of 29
    Looks like Apple is solving the problem a different way.  LG cut a groove in the underside of the screen, I guess to reduce the distortion that occurs as the signal goes through layers.  Apple seems to be addressing the issue by correcting or refocusing the signal.

    LG touts a very low false acceptance rate.  What's the false failure rate?  Maybe it's a great way to do it and Apple just developed another way.
    netmagenolamacguypscooter63badmonk
  • Reply 10 of 29
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,737member
    blueeddie said:
    So, even if Apple filed this patent back in 2014, with them finally being awarded the patent now, what are the chances this technology actually gets implemented into iPhone 8 (if next year's isn't an S but actual 8)? Does Apple start developing and use technologies they haven't gotten a patent on? 
    Of course! You can't file a for a patent on something that you can't show works even in a rudimentary form. It is very possible that since the patent was filed in 2014 that they have revised the design to make it ready for a commercial product next year. Or, it may not be ready yet. Either way, you don't twiddle your thumbs waiting for the patent approval.
    fastasleep
  • Reply 11 of 29
    leptonlepton Posts: 111member
    I'm thinking you take the dock, which currently has 4 app icons in it, and move it down on the full-screen phone to where the bottom bezel is. Add a fifth icon in the middle, which is the on-screen Home button. Let that new semi-permanent dock be thought of as a touch strip, same as on the upcoming MacBooks. You can customize the new dock in each app, or eliminate it temporarily for full screen graphics. Also, move the top ear speaker to the top edge of the phone. Wrap the display around one or both sides of the phone, and have software volume and mute buttons there. Add some long-distance wireless charging and presto - iPhone 8!
    netmage
  • Reply 12 of 29
    sflocal said:
    Samsung will now attempt to market it first and use Apple's patent drawings in its own filings, it will barely function, and Samsung shills and Fandroids will claim Apple is just a "follower".
    And then the Samsung phone (or washing machine) will explode.
    edited October 2016 watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 29
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 5,005member

    notice the article was dates May of this year and apple patent goes back to 2014 and they were probably working on it long before that to figure out the final solution. LG could be one of Apple partners in the final design. Apple most likely had to make proof of concepts which they could not do themselves they would need someone like LG. LG is just showing off their part of the design does not mean others could implement without Apples part of the solution. It is just like the current TouchID sensor, apple does it better than everyone else.
    edited October 2016 argonautnolamacguy
  • Reply 14 of 29
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,454member
    lepton said:
    I'm thinking you take the dock, which currently has 4 app icons in it, and move it down on the full-screen phone to where the bottom bezel is. Add a fifth icon in the middle, which is the on-screen Home button. Let that new semi-permanent dock be thought of as a touch strip, same as on the upcoming MacBooks. You can customize the new dock in each app, or eliminate it temporarily for full screen graphics. Also, move the top ear speaker to the top edge of the phone. Wrap the display around one or both sides of the phone, and have software volume and mute buttons there. Add some long-distance wireless charging and presto - iPhone 8!
    With no physical features on the front of the phone, there will need to be a touch strip at both the top and bottom. A semi-permanent dock is a lousy idea that will only take up room in apps. At worst, the UI might leave space in each app that doesn't allow any control buttons, so merely placing the finger anywhere in the vicinity triggers the home button as Apple could expand the sensor over a physical button.

    the speaker does not need an opening. It would merely vibrate the glass in a specific area. This technology already exists. The camera will be a much bigger issue. I'm guessing translucent LCD display that clears for that opening. Light and proximity sensors are also going to be another challenge.

    its hard to imagine the power, volume and mute buttons will go away in the next phone. Apple seems to take baby steps modifying one technology at a time. Adjusting to touch sensitive buttons for everything at once would be a major change that would certainly cause a lot of confusion. Then again, if orientation is no longer relevant, then those physical buttons would have to be software position able. That basically ensures people won't be able to feel their way around the phone anymore. Forgetting to silence the phone before a meeting or a movie could result in a much more disastrous ordeal of trying to turn it off. Maybe Apple is gambling on wearables like the Apple Watch or AirPods for control surfaces. But that's a big gamble. On the other hand, maybe they reduce all the buttons down to two symmetrical buttons on each end, which serve as a function recall for all virtual buttons. It's an extra step but pares the phone down to a minimum configuration with the reassurance of a reliable tactile physical interface.
    edited October 2016
  • Reply 15 of 29
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 2,246member
    sog35 said:
    Soon..........


    I just don't get this. Why do I want to waste screen space on a button? To me that's just dumb. That iPhone X Plus picture is dumb! Where is the facetime camera? How about the speaker so you can hear the person talk? I just don't get a all screen phone. The Home button on the iPhone is part of what makes a iPhone. Tossing that button is just turning the iPhone into just another Android phone.
  • Reply 16 of 29
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    I'm not sure this is the same thing. LG appears to be just putting the sensor under the screen, so will still have a block of the screen cut out which will be replaced by the sensor. 

    What Apple is trying to do is give you the full screen, without a visible sensor. 

    The problem I see with LG's implementation action is that part of the screen will be missing to make room for the sensor. 

    The problem I see with Apple's idea is finding the part of the screen to put your finger on. 
  • Reply 17 of 29
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    that brief article doesn't seem to talk about how. remember you aren't patenting an idea, you're patenting the implementation. 
    repressthis
  • Reply 18 of 29
    coolfactorcoolfactor Posts: 1,833member
    The only way that this would make sense is if there was a proximity sensor that activated just that lower portion of the screen where the virtual buttons are. My girlfriend's Samsung has on-screen buttons that don't show up until pressed, which is completely illogical in my mind.
    repressthis
  • Reply 19 of 29
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 4,034member
    Did Xiaomi have this concept posted last time even though it might not work?
  • Reply 20 of 29
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 4,034member
    jbdragon said:
    sog35 said:
    Soon..........


    I just don't get this. Why do I want to waste screen space on a button? To me that's just dumb. That iPhone X Plus picture is dumb! Where is the facetime camera? How about the speaker so you can hear the person talk? I just don't get a all screen phone. The Home button on the iPhone is part of what makes a iPhone. Tossing that button is just turning the iPhone into just another Android phone.
    Agree. I would bet that Apple will never get risk of the bezels. They may reduce it to half, but bezels need to be there for the structure of the phone and hide other components behind them: speakers, sensors, FaceTime camera...
    If they have to move the home button, it may end up on the side of the phone just like in Apple Watch and redesign the Sleep/Wake button somehow to not mess up with HOme button usage.
    anome
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