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Google's Android poised to get full fingerprint support

The feature would allow developers to bake fingerprint sensing into their applications and Google to use it freely across Android.

A fingerprint sensor is available in Samsung's Galaxy S6. CNET

Google's next update to its Android operating system could come with a new security feature: full support for fingerprint sensors.

At the Google I/O conference next week, Google will unveil native fingerprint authentication support in its expected Android M operating system, BuzzFeed News is reporting, citing people who claim to have knowledge of its plans. If that's true, it would suggest that Google will launch an application programming interface (API) for fingerprint-sensing to developers, so they can incorporate fingerprint authentication into their apps.

The idea of Google actually launching native fingerprint support, however, is predicated on the company launching Android M. The company has yet to confirm it will announce that next version of its operating system for mobile devices, the expected follow-on to Android Lollipop, which Google released in late 2014. That said, in a developer breakout session posted to Google's I/O site that has since been taken down, Google mentioned Android M in its description.

Native fingerprint support would be a key addition to Android and help it catch up to Apple's iOS software, which already supports the company's Touch ID fingerprint sensing across both the operating system and third-party apps.

Google declined to comment on the fingerprint sensor support.

While some Android devices, like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, come with fingerprint sensors, their functionality is relatively limited. In many cases, the fingerprint sensors are used mainly to unlock a device. By adding native fingerprint support, Android M would allow for third-party developers to offer fingerprint authentication and presumably bundle the feature across the many apps included in Android. So whether a user wants to access their banking application or open Gmail, fingerprint authentication would provide a new way to access those programs.

See also: 5 things to expect at Google I/O 2015

Google reportedly had designs on adding fingerprint sensing last year with the launch of its Nexus 6, the company's flagship handset developed by Motorola and running on Android 5.0, aka Lollipop. However, the feature was scrubbed toward the end of the product's development after Google determined the API that would have controlled fingerprint sensing was not yet ready, according to a report in December from ArsTechnica.

Although he didn't mention native fingerprint authentication for Android, former Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside said in January that his company had plans to bundle a fingerprint sensor in the Nexus 6, but decided against it because Apple had acquired the leading fingerprint-authentication company, AuthenTec. Apple took AuthenTec's features off the market, leaving Motorola to look for alternatives from companies like Synaptics. Woodside and Google decided against going with those companies' sensors.

Update, 8:45 a.m. PT: Adds Google declining to comment.

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