Mobile Device “Land-grab”

Household names such as Apple and Samsung suddenly see biometrics as must-have features for mobile devices, and everyone else is following suite. By next year, fingerprint sensors will be standard on most high-end smartphones and common on most mobile devices by 2018, Goode Intelligence predicts.

That demand will be worth $8.3 billion annually by 2018, which is why there’s a land grab underway among biometric sensor manufacturers. The winners will be the ones capable of delivering key features such as liveness detection on devices that have limited space, power and computing resources to spare for biometrics.

CES 2014 was a convenient opportunity to get an update on how handset manufacturers are implementing biometrics . Since the Apple 5S debuted this past October, rival vendors have responded mainly in Japan, Korea, and China. Examples include products from HTC, Fujitsu, Pantech and Konka, all sporting fingerprint readers from either Validity (now Synaptics) or Fingerprint Cards AB (FPC). In visiting the booths of other mobile device manufacturers, I learned that all will likely be offering biometric authentication in the very near future.

Leading fingerprint sensor manufacturers aggressively competing for the mobile space include FPC, IDEX, Validity and Digital Persona. But iris sensors are also in the running, with rumors that Samsung is deciding between fingerprint or iris-based authentication for its next device.

To capture this initial round of design wins, sensor manufacturers are rushing new products to market that are smaller, with less resolution, and lower cost, all to better “fit” mobile device constraints. Unfortunately, these changes will challenge image quality and therefore limit matching algorithms’ functionality. Moreover, software-based liveness detection (LD) is also challenged by these design parameters.

Longer term (1-2 years), it appears that fingerprint sensor technology will morph and integrate directly with touch screen platens. This should reverse the current trend of smaller image capture and lower image quality, thus improving both matching and LD functionality, along with the end  user experience.

To meet current and future LD requirements, NexID is currently working on a new product specifically for mobile and embedded LD applications. Our goal for this “Mobile LD” application is to offer performance parameters currently available with our desktop/laptop application on a mobile and/or embedded device. Look for more news on this forthcoming product in Q1.