Qualcomm is taking fingerprint scanners below the surface

You can expect to start seeing fingerprint sensors underneath phone displays next year, says the chipmaker at Mobile World Congress Shanghai.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
2 min read

Phone makers want to move fingerprint scanners below our phones' displays so there's even more room for screen. 

James Martin/CNET

Your fingerprint scanners are going down next summer.

As in they're going below the glass and behind the back of your phone, according to Qualcomm . At Mobile World Congress Shanghai on Tuesday, the chipmaker announced new fingerprint sensors that can work underneath your phone's display, through metal and glass, and underwater.

Qualcomm expects the first commercial devices using fingerprint sensors underneath glass and metal to start selling in early 2018, while sensors that go under the display should show up by the summer of 2018. Qualcomm said it'll be providing samples for phone makers to work with starting this October.

Moving the fingerprint scanner below phone displays is the next step for phone makers as they inch toward creating completely bezel-less devices. The Samsung Galaxy S8 moved its fingerprint scanner to the back of the phone to remove the home button on the front and make more space for the screen -- an inconvenient issue that troubled CNET reviewers.

The all-screen trend continues to gain steam with phones like Andy Rubin's Essential Phone, which also put the fingerprint sensor on the back. Apple's upcoming iPhone 8 is rumored to be making a similar move. On Thursday, Chinese brand Vivo hinted it may reveal the first phone that integrates a fingerprint sensor into the screen at MWC this week.

The new sensors will be able to work with older generations of Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips, from the 200 series up to the recently announced 630 and 660 chips.

"They will work on current generations of Android, as well as future generations," Seshu Madhavapeddy, Qualcomm's vice president of product management, said during a prebriefing. "There's really nothing that needs to be upgraded to support this."

Since the new fingerprint sensors will use ultrasonic scanning, they'll also be able to pick up a person's heartbeat and blood flow as an extra measure of security. The ultrasonic sensors can scan through 800 micrometers of cover glass, while the previous limit was 400 micrometers. 

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