Apple patent for ultrasonic force sensor could lead to iPhone with under-screen Touch ID

Posted:
in General Discussion edited September 2017
Apple on Tuesday was granted a patent for an ultrasound-based force and touch sensor that could lead to a thinner, less obstructive 3D Touch mechanism, a structure which was reportedly a barrier to below-screen Touch ID integration in iPhone X.


Source: USPTO


As granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,772,721 for "Ultrasound-based force sensing and touch sensing" details a method of determining input force by emitting and detecting ultrasonic pulses. More specifically, the system measures the interaction between said pulses and a user's finger.

In some embodiments, force sensors are disposed as ultrasonic elements arranged in rows and columns, or alternatively an array of individual sensors arranged in any desired pattern, to generate and receive ultrasound waves.

A first ultrasound wave is directed at an area where a user's finger might touch the screen or engagement surface. Waves or pulses travel through components, like a sensing layer and input surface, to be reflected by a portion of a user's finger or other object in contact with the substrate.

The reflection of the pulse may be used to determine the distance between the input object and the sensor, which can then be used to calculate force. Attenuation, or the amount of pulse signal absorbed by a contacting object, can also be used to determine force magnitude.

For example, when a finger presses harder on a screen, its surface area increases and thus absorbs a larger percentage of the pulse. This data can be applied to augment detected force input calculations.

Apple's patent notes the force sensor array works in concert with other sensing mechanisms like a capacitive touch sensor, which might also double as a reflection surface. In addition to determining a given input's location, the capacitive layer may also be utilized in detecting force metrics for multiple separate, simultaneous inputs.

Importantly, the force sensing apparatus can be disposed below a device display or above it. For example, if ultrasonic sensors were placed over presentation elements, they could be made transparent or constructed and arranged so as not to impact a user's view of the screen. This method is a departure from Apple's current force sensing iPhone system, dubbed 3D Touch, which stacks multiple component layers beneath the smartphone's display.




The existing 3D Touch system is capable of measuring and mapping small changes in capacitance between iPhone's cover glass and a rigid metal sensor layer embedded in the device's backlight array. When a user presses down on the cover glass, the distance between it and the sensor decreases, thereby resulting in reduced capacitance.

3D Touch is helped along by a separate multitouch capacitive sensor layered above the display. This sensor determines finger location during touch and, when detected, force gestures. Completing the package is the Taptic Engine, a haptic feedback module that generates precise vibrations.

While 3D Touch yields highly accurate results, its design is complex and construction eats up valuable internal device space. This latter consideration plays into iPhone X and Apple's rumored failure to integrate a sub-screen fingerprint recognition system meant to replace Touch ID.

Scuttlebutt circulating in the lead-up to this month's iPhone X unveiling suggested Apple would retain its fingerprint reader as a backup or alternative authentication method to a new facial recognition solution. As is now known, the company scrapped Touch ID altogether, moving instead to the depth-sensing Face ID system.

Some industry analysts speculated Apple arrived at its decision to ditch embedded Touch ID only after facing insurmountable difficulties related to the 3D Touch stack. Insiders, however, claim the company has been all-in on Face ID for over a year.

Also unknown is whether Apple integrated legacy 3D Touch technology into iPhone X or opted for a redesigned solution. Reports in May claimed the company was moving to a thin film process that does away with the metal backlight sensor in favor of a film-on-glass design, substantially cutting down on sensor stack size. A teardown will likely reveal more answers come November.

In any case, the patent granted today could be a solution to technical troubles that supposedly thwarted under-screen Touch ID in iPhone X, and appears to be more accurate and robust than thin film options. Whether Apple plans to take advantage of the technology, or continue full steam ahead with Face ID, remains to be seen.

Apple's ultrasonic force sensor patent was first applied for in June 2015 and credits Brian Q. Huppi, Martin P. Grunthaner, John G. Elias, Sinan Filiz and Steven P. Hotelling as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 24
    irelandireland Posts: 17,671member
    Underscreen fingerprint sensing has been demoed already. Apple seem to be focusing on Face ID going forward. Or am I wrong?
    Avieshek
  • Reply 2 of 24
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,272member
    ireland said:
    Underscreen fingerprint sensing has been demoed already. Apple seem to be focusing on Face ID going forward. Or am I wrong?
    And shitty fingerprint sensors had been around for decades before Apple made it better so I don't know why Qualcomm announcing their own ultrasonic implantation would mean Apple should dump this technology. And try to keep in mind that ultrasonic sensors have a lot more to offer than being put behind a display in a smartphone.
    RacerhomieXwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 24
    Was not having a patent for under screen touch id restricted apple implementing in iPhone 8/X or it was limitation of current technology that stopped ? Haven't use face id so can't give opinion but under screen touch id would be welcome news for current touch id replacement. At lease it would let extend edge to edge screen. Under screen touch id would have been in-between step before face id. I know touch id on back of phone is not convenient but moving on back frees up space on front to extend edge to edge screen. Let's hope, face id is the future.
    edited September 2017
  • Reply 4 of 24
    ireland said:
    Underscreen fingerprint sensing has been demoed already. Apple seem to be focusing on Face ID going forward. Or am I wrong?
    I think this is more about what is easier to produce in large volumes. We’ve been told the face detection h/w is the reason for delayed and slowed production, and I expect an eventual 100% OLED product line. It will, however, be interesting to watch Tim spin fingerprints as better in 1 or 2 years. 
  • Reply 5 of 24
    ireland said:
    Underscreen fingerprint sensing has been demoed already. Apple seem to be focusing on Face ID going forward. Or am I wrong?
    No. Craig Federighi told John Gruber that Touch ID under the display was plan B and once they nailed Face ID they stopped working on Touch ID. So the narrative that Face ID exists because Apple couldn’t get Touch ID under the display to work is just plain false. Apple has lots of patents for things that may or may not come to market. 
    mwhitetmaypatchythepirateStrangeDays
  • Reply 6 of 24

    larrya said:
    ireland said:
    Underscreen fingerprint sensing has been demoed already. Apple seem to be focusing on Face ID going forward. Or am I wrong?
    I think this is more about what is easier to produce in large volumes. We’ve been told the face detection h/w is the reason for delayed and slowed production, and I expect an eventual 100% OLED product line. It will, however, be interesting to watch Tim spin fingerprints as better in 1 or 2 years. 
    Touch ID isn’t coming back to any product where Apple ditched it. You don’t see a headphone jack on the 8 or X. This is just wishful thinking on the part of those who don’t like change and without having tried Face ID assume it’s going to be a worse experience.
    llamaStrangeDays
  • Reply 7 of 24
    Wouldn't the IPad make a better use case to implement the under screen finger print technology than future iphone models to get the bezel less screens and not having to put the expensive face ID tech into the already expensive iPad Pro models?
    longpathradarthekatwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 24
    Personally, I find the idea of reliance on Face ID unappealing and too much of a compromise just to get the full screen face on the X. I like my current 6S and I’ll continue to buy Touch ID-equipped iPhones as long as they make them.
  • Reply 9 of 24
    sog35 said:
    This train has passed.

    Its all about FaceID now
    "Old is Gold"
  • Reply 10 of 24
    Hash7 said:
    Wouldn't the IPad make a better use case to implement the under screen finger print technology than future iphone models to get the bezel less screens and not having to put the expensive face ID tech into the already expensive iPad Pro models?
    Face Id may be elegant, future proof solution for iPhone X, Xs, etc than under screen touch id may be solution for iPhone 8s and ipad Apple don't have to make all future iPhones,iPad with face id. Let two parallel iPhone series continue to exist. Such two implementation can give Apple flexibility with spreading features and associated pricing while it give users choice and differential cost/affordability benefit. If Craig Federighi says Apple had under screen touch id as plan B than Apple already have that working in lab. Just move it to real products.
    edited September 2017 Hash7watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 24
    Title is wrong. This isn’t about Touch ID at all. This is about a better implementation of Force Touch that would also work in an iPad.
    tmay
  • Reply 12 of 24
    tmaytmay Posts: 3,947member
    sog35 said:
    This train has passed.

    Its all about FaceID now
    At some point in the future, the Watch will need independent authorization. Face ID would be ideal for that, assuming that Apple could meet the technical challenges.

    Face ID would also be easily incorporated into the MacOS product line, and I would expect that the iPad Pro's will have it next generation.
    radarthekatslprescottwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 24
    ireland said:
    Underscreen fingerprint sensing has been demoed already. Apple seem to be focusing on Face ID going forward. Or am I wrong?
    No. Craig Federighi told John Gruber that Touch ID under the display was plan B and once they nailed Face ID they stopped working on Touch ID. So the narrative that Face ID exists because Apple couldn’t get Touch ID under the display to work is just plain false. Apple has lots of patents for things that may or may not come to market. 
    Just because Craig said so publicly doesn't mean it's 100% factual. Of course at this point he has to upsell FaceID. Not like he's going to admit that TouchID under the screen wasn't going to be ready in time so they had worked on FaceID alongside as a backup just in case. 
    radarthekat
  • Reply 14 of 24
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,229moderator
    tmay said:
    sog35 said:
    This train has passed.

    Its all about FaceID now
    At some point in the future, the Watch will need independent authorization. Face ID would be ideal for that, assuming that Apple could meet the technical challenges.
    I would have said touch ID under the display would be most suitable for the Watch (and HomePod, Apple TV) and Face ID for iPad, iPhone, Mac. With ultrasound, the sensor is ok being blocked by the display, unlike a camera, which needs a hole in it. Qualcomm's one is described here:

    https://www.qualcomm.com/news/onq/2017/07/05/qualcomm-fingerprint-sensors-transform-device-authentication

    A review said it was slow but at least it works:

    https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/28/15885502/qualcomm-under-display-fingerprint-sensor-apple-samsung



    Qualcomm says the resolution is high enough to detect sweat pores and each fingerprint ridge. For Face ID to work on the Apple Watch, it would need the dot projector, illuminator and sensor, which takes up a lot of space on the front.

    Ultrasound means they could put it in the iPhone too without compromising the display but they don't need it and it would be slower to unlock because you don't have a physical area that you can feel where to put your finger. On the Watch, the whole display is small so this isn't so bad as you can aim for the middle of the display.
    edited September 2017 patchythepirateradarthekat
  • Reply 15 of 24
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 2,011member
    Dracarys said:
    ireland said:
    Underscreen fingerprint sensing has been demoed already. Apple seem to be focusing on Face ID going forward. Or am I wrong?
    No. Craig Federighi told John Gruber that Touch ID under the display was plan B and once they nailed Face ID they stopped working on Touch ID. So the narrative that Face ID exists because Apple couldn’t get Touch ID under the display to work is just plain false. Apple has lots of patents for things that may or may not come to market. 
    Just because Craig said so publicly doesn't mean it's 100% factual. Of course at this point he has to upsell FaceID. Not like he's going to admit that TouchID under the screen wasn't going to be ready in time so they had worked on FaceID alongside as a backup just in case. 
    Apple has many patents that never see a day in products. Apple makes many prototypes to evaluate the feasibility of mass product and reliability which also never see a day. If Apple is close to under screen touch id implementation than it might surface in next gen non-iPhone X(8s or 9) and eventually in iPad. Nothing wrong with Face id and touch id iphones keep going..
  • Reply 16 of 24
    My guess is Apple could bring back an improved Touch ID in the future. Not just with an under-screen sensor but a higher resolution sensor and better fingerprint processing algorithms that make it more robust than current implementation. But I'm just speculating of course.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 24
    Dracarys said:
    ireland said:
    Underscreen fingerprint sensing has been demoed already. Apple seem to be focusing on Face ID going forward. Or am I wrong?
    No. Craig Federighi told John Gruber that Touch ID under the display was plan B and once they nailed Face ID they stopped working on Touch ID. So the narrative that Face ID exists because Apple couldn’t get Touch ID under the display to work is just plain false. Apple has lots of patents for things that may or may not come to market. 
    Just because Craig said so publicly doesn't mean it's 100% factual. Of course at this point he has to upsell FaceID. Not like he's going to admit that TouchID under the screen wasn't going to be ready in time so they had worked on FaceID alongside as a backup just in case. 
    So you’re suggesting conspiracy theories on rumor sites are more likely to be the truth than what a top executive for the company in question with an excellent reputation at stake specifically says was the case? sure, buddy. 
    edited September 2017 watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 24
    ireland said:
    Underscreen fingerprint sensing has been demoed already. Apple seem to be focusing on Face ID going forward. Or am I wrong?
    I hope you're not wrong.  Face ID seems like a step forward in biometric security, and I'm really confused why some people here want Apple to move backwards.
    edited September 2017
  • Reply 19 of 24
    Dracarys said:
    ireland said:
    Underscreen fingerprint sensing has been demoed already. Apple seem to be focusing on Face ID going forward. Or am I wrong?
    No. Craig Federighi told John Gruber that Touch ID under the display was plan B and once they nailed Face ID they stopped working on Touch ID. So the narrative that Face ID exists because Apple couldn’t get Touch ID under the display to work is just plain false. Apple has lots of patents for things that may or may not come to market. 
    Just because Craig said so publicly doesn't mean it's 100% factual. Of course at this point he has to upsell FaceID. Not like he's going to admit that TouchID under the screen wasn't going to be ready in time so they had worked on FaceID alongside as a backup just in case. 
    So I’m supposed to assume Craig wasn’t telling the truth because some prefer Touch ID and want to believe Face ID wasn’t Apple’s first choice?
  • Reply 20 of 24

    larrya said:
    ireland said:
    Underscreen fingerprint sensing has been demoed already. Apple seem to be focusing on Face ID going forward. Or am I wrong?
    I think this is more about what is easier to produce in large volumes. We’ve been told the face detection h/w is the reason for delayed and slowed production, and I expect an eventual 100% OLED product line. It will, however, be interesting to watch Tim spin fingerprints as better in 1 or 2 years. 
    Touch ID isn’t coming back to any product where Apple ditched it. You don’t see a headphone jack on the 8 or X. This is just wishful thinking on the part of those who don’t like change and without having tried Face ID assume it’s going to be a worse experience.
    The irony is that those are the same people, who like to criticize Apple for not introducing new things and not innovating.
    And when Apple does something new, this idiots scream "but muh headphone JACK".
    They are idiots... in a strict medical definition of that word.
    edited September 2017 watto_cobra
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