A beginner’s Guide To Biometric Features. Apple iPhone 5S With A Fingerprint Scanner?

The New Apple iPhone 5S With A Fingerprint Scanner?

A couple of days ago, at the Samsung IFA event, Samsung released a new smartphone (the Note 3) and a totally ‘new’ concept: a smartwatch (the Samsung Galaxy Gear). Surprisingly, considering the hype surrounding around a fingerprint reader/scanner, Samsung didn’t include this highly anticipated feature in the new phone. Instead, they introduced a new Air Command [1]. This failure (?) leaves a huge room for Apple. Indeed, tomorrow (on September 10), Apple is also about to release a new phone (the iPhone 5S) with (most likely) a fingerprint scanner. It seems that Apple could end up being the first smartphone player to deliver this next generation biometric security feature.

What’s exactly biometrics about? It is ‘the science and technology of measuring and analyzing biological data. In information technology, biometrics refers to technologies that measure and analyze human body characteristics, such as DNA, fingerprints, eye retinas and irises, voice patterns, facial patterns and hand measurements, for authentication purposes[2].

Generally, a biometric device consists of:
  • A reader or scanning device
  • Software that converts the scanned information into digital form and compares match points
  • A database that stores the biometric data for comparison

Since at least 1999, Apple Inc. is working very hard on security patent applications and security features via biometrics for iDevices. When you know that, according to Apple's CEO Tim Cook, 94% of the Fortune 500 companies and 70% Global 500 companies are testing or deploying iPads [3], there is certainly a high demand for security.

New patent applications and rumors indicate that Apple will most likely introduce a new unlock screen feature on the iPhone 5S that will utilize higher integrated security features via biometrics (such as, fingerprint scanner, retinal scans, facial recognition technology). Based on recent Apple patent applications, these new biometric sensors/readers also could be implemented in other iDevices, such as, ‘a laptop computer, a tablet computer, a somewhat smaller device such as a wrist-watch device [interesting!], pendant device, headphone device, earpiece device, or other wearable or miniature device, a cellular telephone, or a media player. Device 10 may also be a television, a set-top box, a desktop computer, a computer monitor into which a computer has been integrated, or other suitable electronic equipment’[4].

Here is an image of the fingerprint features provided by Patently Apple [5]. As you know, a patent application must contain, among other things, the description of the invention, one or more claims, any drawings referred to in the description of the claims and an abstract. Drawings often assist the reader in understanding the specifications. In these Apple’s patent figures 12 and 13 shown bellow we see two types of biometric sensors (fingerprint reader). On FIG. 12, one with a sensor located in an inactive area on the right side on the “home button” (#24B and 34); and on the on FIG. 13, one reader incorporated in the “slide to unlock” feature.

And here is another drawing (FIG. 1 [6]) explaining different possibilities/options (for instance, #27, #19, #14) for biometric security sensors.

More precisely, ‘FIG. 1 is a front perspective view of an illustrative electronic device of the type that may have a sensor or other component with structures that may be used in near field communications in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention[7].

Whether or not this fingerprint reader feature will be incorporated in the iPhone 5S is still uncertain (although a lot of rumors are going in this sense [8]). However, very recently, on September 6, the WIPO published a new European patent [9] filed by Apple Inc. where the fingerprint reader is incorporated into the ‘home button’ with near field communication (NFC) technology [10], allowing for dual modes of operation in a single space-saving design. Here is the abstract [11] of the patent:

‘An electronic device may have electrical components such as sensors. A sensor may have sensor circuitry that gathers sensor data using a conductive structure. The sensor may be a touch sensor that uses the conductive structure to form a capacitive touch sensor electrode or may be a fingerprint sensor that uses the conductive structure with a fingerprint electrode array to handle fingerprint sensor signals. Near field communications circuitry may be included in an electronic device. When operated in a sensor mode, the sensor circuitry may use the conductive structure to gather a fingerprint or other sensor data. When operated in near field communications mode, the near field communications circuitry can use the conductive structure to transmit and receive capacitively coupled or inductively coupled near field communications signals. A fingerprint sensor may have optical structures that communicate with external equipment[12].

Here are the drawings (FIGS. 4 and 12).

Figure 4 is described in the patents as follows: ‘diagram of a sensor with a circular ring-shaped electrode surrounding an array of electrodes in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention’[13]. The two-dimensional array #206A can include up to 5,000 electrodes that can be used to capture a fingerprint. 

FIG. 12 is just a perspective view of the sensor button. 

It looks like more than rumors… isn’t is?!

Apple will unveil the next-generation iPhone 5S and the low-cost iPhone 5C during an iPhone event ‘This should brighten everyone’s day’ tomorrow in Cupertino. We’ll see what’s that all about…

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[7] Id.
[10] NFC ‘is a set of standards for smartphones and similar devices to establish radio communication with each other by touching them together or bringing them into close proximity, usually no more than a few inches’, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near_field_communication
[11] ‘The abstract merely serves as technical information. It must contain a precise summary of the disclosure as contained in the description, the claims and the drawings and the technical field to which the invention pertains’, G. TRITTON, Intellectual Property in Europe, 3rd ed., 2008, pp.147-148.
[12] For my French friends: ‘Un dispositif électronique peut comporter des composants électriques tels que des capteurs. Un capteur peut comporter des éléments de circuit de capteur qui rassemblent des données de capteur au moyen d'une structure conductrice. Le capteur peut être un capteur tactile qui utilise la structure conductrice pour former une électrode de capteur tactile capacitif ou peut être un capteur d'empreintes digitales qui utilise la structure conductrice avec un réseau d'électrodes d'empreintes digitales pour gérer des signaux de capteur d'empreintes digitales. Des éléments de circuit de communications de champ proche peuvent être inclus dans un dispositif électronique. Lorsqu'ils sont mis en oeuvre dans un mode de capteur, les éléments de circuit de capteur peuvent utiliser la structure conductrice pour rassembler des données de capteur d'empreintes digitales ou autres. Lorsqu'ils sont mis en oeuvre dans un mode de communications de champ proche, les éléments de circuit de communications de champ proche peuvent utiliser la structure conductrice pour transmettre et recevoir des signaux de communication de champ proche couplés de manière capacitive ou couplés de manière inductive. Un capteur d'empreintes digitales peut comporter des structures optiques qui communiquent avec un équipement externe’.


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