Qualcomm introduced a new in-screen fingerprint sensor for smartphones, the “second-generation Qualcomm 3D acoustic wave sensor.”
On-screen fingerprint readers can be provided quickly, accurately and reliably, provided that you actually reach their center, which can be a challenge. Under the smooth, flat glass panel, there is no tactile guidance to indicate where to stick the finger. Early fingerprint readers were very small and required precise positioning to hit the sensor. An in-screen fingerprint reader large enough that you will not miss it even if you don’t look at it. This will be a huge improvement. Although we have seen many companies talking about this product, no one has brought it to the market.
Qualcomm announced the “3D Sonic Max” in December 2019, thus achieving its goal of manufacturing a large fingerprint reader. It sounds like a revolution, claiming to have a surface area of 30mm×20mm, which is so large that it can scan two fingerprints side by side. I think you will never want to do this, but the point is that you never miss the scan area because it is so large. 3D Sonic Max has not yet released a commercial version, but Qualcomm told us that it will deliver its products before the end of 2021.
As OEMs struggle to make a major leap in the size of fingerprint readers, perhaps incremental changes will enable Qualcomm to gain more customers. The size of my fingertip is about 14mm×14mm, but the first-generation sensor of Qualcomm on Galaxy S10 and S20 can only measure a small part of the fingerprint, and the scanning area is 9mm×4mm. The second-generation version is only 8mm×8mm, which is still not what I call a “full fingerprint” sensor, but now it has a larger vertical target. The above-mentioned technology of Qualcomm seems to greatly exaggerate the ratio of the sensor to the finger, showing my measurement results near the 20mm×20mm sensor.
It is also important to point out that Qualcomm does not have much current fingerprint reader business. Although every smartphone company on the planet uses Qualcomm modems, and Android OEMs ship a large number of Qualcomm SoCs, there is only a handful of companies that ship Qualcomm fingerprint readers: Samsung. Most Android phones use an optical on-screen fingerprint reader (usually a product of Goodix or Synaptics) to replace Qualcomm’s solution.
But when it comes to Samsung, it sounds like the fingerprint reader will be in the Galaxy S21 that will be released this week. Last month, the plug-in Samsung leaker Ice Universe said that the Galaxy S21 fingerprint sensor will use ultrasonic, measuring 8mm×8mm, consistent with the specifications announced by Qualcomm today. After the delivery of Qualcomm’s first-generation fingerprint sensor in 2019 and 2020, the upgrade of the Galaxy series fingerprint sensor has expired.