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04 July 2017

Apple’s upcoming iPhone 8 might come without Touch ID, and I’m worried

New reports claim Apple might be focusing on a different type of sensor for unlocking your iPhone.
New reports claim Apple might be focusing on a different type of sensor for unlocking your iPhone.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Uh-oh. Apple’s upcoming iPhone 8 may not have that under-the-display fingerprint scanner after all; instead, it may rely on 3D face scanning for unlocking the display.

The news comes via two new reports; Bloomberg and KGI Securities, whose Ming-Chi Kuo says the OLED-based iPhone 8 — that’s the big-screened one that we’re all waiting for — probably won’t have fingerprint recognition at all. 

Kuo says that the technical challenges for embedding an under-the-display fingerprint sensor are still too great, despite the fact that Vivo and Qualcomm recently showing that it can be done. Current under-display fingerprint sensors do not penetrate OLED screens well enough, Kuo claims, and that they necessitate a “more complex panel pixel design.”

Because of these issues, Kuo flat out predicts that the iPhone 8 will not support fingerprint recognition at all. Instead, the phone will have “3D sensing for facial recognition,” with the added benefit of improved selfie quality. 

Bloomberg‘s report is a bit more cautious. It claims that the phone will have a new 3D sensor that would let you unlock your iPhone, authenticate payments, and launch secure apps. Apple’s intent is not for it to replace Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint scanner, the source told Bloomberg, but the report does state that Apple has “faced challenges” integrating the Touch ID into the new phone’s screen. 

I’d be very surprised if Apple shunned Touch ID altogether and replaced it with a 3D sensor, however advanced it may be. Face and iris scanning has existed in phones for a while — I tested ZTE’s smartphone implementation of eye scanning back in March 2015 — and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 has both iris scanning and face scanning as a way to unlock the phone.

The problem is that none of the implementations I’ve seen worked quite right; they required you to hold your phone in front of your face, which is annoying, and they were too slow and too unreliable. Bloomberg‘s report claims Apple’s new sensor would be able to scan your face “within a few hundred milliseconds,” and would work even if the device is laying flat on the table. This sounds comforting, but I’m still not convinced it can match the simplicity of touching a spot on your phone and having it instantly unlock, with a very low failure rate. 

Samsung Galaxy S8's face scanning requires you to hold your phone up, 8 to 20 inches from your face.

Samsung Galaxy S8’s face scanning requires you to hold your phone up, 8 to 20 inches from your face.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

I unlock my phone hundreds of times per day (currently, it’s an LG G6 with a fingerprint sensor on the back, but I’ve used dozens of phones with a built-in fingerprint sensor, both on the front and back). Sometimes, I hold it in front of me. Sometimes, I do it as I’m taking it out of my pocket. Sometimes, I do it while the phone’s screen is facing away from me.

It’s just something that I don’t think about; as I pick up my phone, I blindly navigate my digit towards that fingerprint sensor, and the phone is unlocked before I even look at it. And if you use Apple Pay, you’re probably used to having your finger on the sensor while holding the phone next to a payment terminal. It’s hard to imagine a 3D face recognition sensor, no matter how advanced, working well in all of these situations. 

It makes much more sense for Apple to introduce this new technology alongside a fingerprint sensor. And even if the under-the-display fingerprint tech is not mature enough yet for volume production, I’m willing to bet Apple would rather move the fingerprint sensor to the back instead of removing it altogether. 

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