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Next Samsung Galaxy phone might have on-screen fingerprint reader

Synaptics announced that its new scanner is entering mass production with a top-five manufacturer.

Josh Miller/CNET
synaptics-clear-id-fingerprint-scanner

This is what the scanner looks like when it's not built into your phone.

Synaptics

Forget fingerprint scanners that live on the home button or on the back of the phone -- why not put one directly into the screen?

That's exactly what one company is trying to do. Fingerprint sensor manufacturer Synaptics just announced that it has begun mass production with a top-five original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to produce its new Clear ID FS9500 in-display fingerprint sensor. The announcement doesn't reveal which phone OEM Synaptics is partnering with, but our money is on Samsung.

Here's why:

The top five phone OEMs can reasonably be considered Samsung, Apple and a few Chinese phone makers like Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi. Synaptics could be working with any one of these companies, but some are more likely than others. For example, it's unlikely that Synaptics is working with Apple due to the fact that Apple has ditched fingerprint scanning for the iPhone X and went solely with its new Face ID. Apple's SVP of Hardware Engineering Dan Riccio explained in an interview that Touch ID was never coming to the iPhone X, and rumors say that next year's iPhones will stick with Face ID.

That narrows this list to four, and out of those, we think that Samsung is the most likely candidate. Samsung and Synaptics have a history of working together dating back to 2005 with the Samsung B310. Synaptics is a known Samsung manufacturing partner, and when it announced the FS9100 optical fingerprint sensor, there were rumors that it could come to the Galaxy S8. That didn't happen.

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In the Synaptics press release, it mentioned that the Clear ID fingerprint scanner was designed for phones with "infinity displays," mentioning that term three times. Infinity Display is a term that Samsung often uses to describe the large bezel-less screen on its Galaxy S8 or Note 8 phones. By mentioning phone screens by that name it seems like Synaptics is giving a direct nod toward Samsung's phones.

The Galaxy S8's current fingerprint setup is way too close to the camera for comfort.

Josh Miller/CNET

This could mean that the optical fingerprint reader may show up in a future Galaxy phone, particularly the unreleased Galaxy S9 or the Galaxy Note 9. It's worth mentioning that previous reports claim that the Galaxy S9 won't get an in-display fingerprint scanner but instead the feature may come to the Note 9. Samsung usually launches its Galaxy S phones near the beginning of the year and Note phones in late summer, but with the Synaptics announcement of mass production of the scanner, it now seems more likely that it won't be ready in time for the Galaxy S9. The Note 9 might be another story.

In-display fingerprint scanners offer a solution for phonemakers who want to make truly bezel-less phones. When the Galaxy S8 went for the sans-bezel look and ditched the home button last year, it moved the fingerprint scanner to the back. But the rear-facing scanner was dangerously close to the phones camera leading to inevitable camera smudges. Not only would the Synaptics scanner fix this, Synaptics claims that its scanner is twice as fast as 3D facial recognition, an obvious jab at Samsung's competitor Apple.

Samsung declined to comment on this story.