Apple’s NFC Fingerprint Scanner and the Patent that will Stop Others from Copying It
Recently, leaked photos of the iPhone 5S Box showing a redesigned iPhone 5S Home button has caused quite a stir on the internet with many media outlets reporting that these images might be genuine. The main reason for the excitement was that the silver ring on the Home button suggest that Apple may be using the fingerprint sensor technology from AuthenTec, a company they bought last year. Yesterday, we briefly covered AuthenTec’s fingerprint technology and how Apple could incorporate this into their iPhone.
However, Patently Apple has ousted a recent patent by Apple, which detailed the invention behind the fingerprint scanner technology and described in how it will be implemented.
Surprisingly, the fingerprint scanning technology will also incorporate Near Field Communication (NFC) to improve accuracy and reliability . This is surprising given that Apple has recently questioned the need of NFC at this moment in their products.
According to Patently Apple, Apple’s patent application stated that: “Challenges can arise when incorporating input-output devices such as sensors and wireless circuits in an electronic device. For example, wireless part should generally not be blocked by conductive structures in a device, which can make it difficult to properly place a wireless component within an electronic device housing. If care is not taken, wireless devices and other input-output devices may consume more space within a device than is desired or may add undesired cost or complexity to a device.”
The above statement clearly shows that Apple is well aware of the limitations of this technology. And to address these concerns, Apple has used innovated methods to make sure the technology works as described.
Here are some key Claims of the patent:
- A touch sensor or fingerprint sensor may have an array of conductive electrodes for gathering sensor data from the front face of an electronic device, an edge of an electronic device, a button in an electronic device, or other portion of an electronic device.
- Fingerprint sensor may also be formed using optical structures such as one or more light sources and receivers. Near field communications circuitry may be included in the electronic device.
- Circuitry such as filter or switching circuitry may be used to couple both the near field communications circuitry and the sensor circuitry to a common conductive structure. This allows the conductive structure to be shared between sensor functions such as fingerprint or touch sensor functions and near field communications functions.
- The control circuitry within the electronic device may operate the device in multiple modes. When operated in a sensor mode, the sensor circuitry may use the conductive structure to gather fingerprint data 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.
This would be pretty cool if it’s implemented as described in the patent. Here’s hoping that Apple’s engineers pull this one off.