The biometric authentication evolution on smartphones
Touch ID (iPhone 5S, 2013), Face ID (iPhone X, 2017), UTS fingerprint reader (2018, Mate 20 Pro).
Apple helped push this technology forward, or as we say, “made it cool”. Android manufacturers followed up with versions of their own. Samsung implemented a fingerprint reader on the Galaxy S5, which required swiping, then we saw iris-scanning tech from the same company, as well as a bunch of face-unlock enabled phones from pretty much every brand out there.Smartphone software and hardware continued to get more advanced, so it’s not surprising that we kept leafing through new pages of tech advancement. Face ID made its debut on the iPhone X, making Touch ID a thing of the past, at least in the Apple world. The iPhone X was a complete overhaul of the iPhone as a whole – probably the most significant shift the iPhone’s ever gone through.
Then, Huawei brought us the first widely available smartphones with an in-screen fingerprint reader – the Mate 20 series, which weirdly also featured a 3D face unlocking system just as advanced as Apple’s Face ID. Huawei quickly figured that’s not needed and left it out from the following P30 series.
Blinding Masks: You can’t turn me on with just a touch
Fast forward to 2020 when the world said, “we need Touch ID – not Face ID”. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic got people thinking about the good old days when their headgear didn’t matter.iPhone users used to turn their smartphone on with just a touch, but now, masks were blinding Face ID (thank you, Mr. The Weeknd!)
Other common problems with Face ID
Headgear doesn’t go very well with Face ID.
Face ID is generally great and arguably faster and even more secure than Touch ID (according to Apple), but that’s when it works. When it doesn’t, it can be a real annoyance. I know I’ve been through that many times with several iPhone and iPad models that support Face ID.And… It’s not just masks that cause all the issues. Face ID wasn’t ideal from the get-go. Goggles, helmets, and anything that drastically changes your appearance will be a challenge for Face ID.
Apple’s worked on improving Face ID through the years – it became a little bit faster and generally more reliable. Following the iOS 14.5 update, you can even unlock your iPhone with a mask on, but only if you also have an Apple Watch.
All the main issues with Face ID are still in place. As we established, some headgear will be a problem. Furthermore, Face ID is pretty much a no-go if it’s not positioned ideally so it can scan your face from the right angle – you can’t unlock your iPhone if it’s on your bedside table, or even if it’s lying flat on a desk.
Face ID is brilliant when it works. You lift your phone up in a natural position, and boom – it unlocks. However, the situations in which it doesn work simply can’t be ignored. As mentioned, you wear a mask – it doesn’t work, you wear a helmet – doesn’t work, you are trying to use your phone on a desk – doesn’t work, etc.
While with Touch ID – yes, it’s not quite as seamless as lifting your phone up, and not even realizing the “magic” happened. But! You know where to put your finger – you know what to do; you do it, and it works 99% of the time instead of… 70% of the time.
Is Touch ID making a comeback?
And is it going to be under-the-screen (UTS), or on the side of the iPhone 13/14?
Now, right out the gate – the evidence that Apple is able to bring back Touch ID is there. They technically already did it with the iPhone SE (2020), but this one comes with a dated form factor. What’s more intriguing is that Apple did something nobody saw coming. They brought back Touch ID on the latest iPad Air (2020). It sits right beneath the power button, which makes it more seamless than ever.This is directly borrowed from competing Android smartphones like Sony flagships which have featured a side-mounted fingerprint reader for a long time. Some make it one with the power button, and some give it a dedicated area outside the power button.
The point is – it’ll take no effort and little to no resources to do the same for the iPhone 13. Surely, Apple also has the expertise to implement an under-display fingerprint reader, but that’s unlikely given that the iPhone 13 is rumored to keep Face ID.
Just recently, Sharp announced the Sharp Aquos R6 – a phone which boasts a lot of features that might be ahead of their time, amongst which is a UTS fingerprint reader by Qualcomm. The new-gen UTS sensor covers a significantly larger area of the screen. Unfortunately, the Aquos R6 will be sold only in Japan, so we still can’t tell how good this new generation UTS fingerprint reader is.
The fact of the matter is that we have heard about a Touch ID comeback on the iPhone 13, but this was back in 2020. The leak/rumor came from a “trusted source” with a good track record. Also, no one expected to see Touch ID make a return on the iPad Air, given its design similarities with the iPad Pro.
We assume that the decision to have Touch ID back on the Air was because it’s more cost-effective for Apple, and it was simply a way to set the more affordable Air apart from the iPad Pro models. Did Apple consider it because of the COVD-19 pandemic? Probably not, since people usually use their iPads at home or at the office where masks (usually) aren’t mandatory.
Still, it would be an absolute joy to have Touch ID back in future iPhones. Compared to older models, Apple significantly increased the size of the power button on the iPhone, which makes the whole idea even more encouraging.
Come on, Apple! Just stick it in there! (that’s what she…)