Ask Apple fans what they would most like to see in an upcoming iPhone and the answer is often the return of Touch ID, conveniently placed within the display itself. But, despite numerous rumours, it’s not there yet – and the latest report suggests it could be almost three years away.
But we know, for sure, that Apple is still working on it due to newly revealed patents. As spotted by Apple obviouslyApple is working on something called “Under-Screen Fingerprint Detection Based on Off-Axis Angular Light.”
Here is the abstract of the patent: “A tactile sensing device comprises a light-emitting layer covered with a transparent layer and configured to illuminate a surface touching the transparent layer and to allow the transmission of light rays reflected from the surface to the underlying layers. The underlying layers include an optical coupling layer, a collimator layer, and a pixelated image sensor.The optical coupling layer bends reflected light rays to create oblique light rays.The collimator layer includes a number of apertures to collimate incoming light rays The pixel image sensor detects collimated oblique light rays.
There have been previous patents focused on this, but the fact that new ones are emerging tells us that this continues to be a major focus for the company. And what’s interesting here is the patent’s focus on off-axis light.
You are familiar with off-axis. That’s what makes OLED screens look a little weird when you’re looking at them from an extreme angle for example, and it’s the mark of a good OLED screen that you don’t notice it when you move the screen away from you. The patent explains why this is important:
“For some objects, oblique light forms stronger imaging signals than light normal to the imaging plane. For example, a fingerprint sensing system/device with multi-directional illumination, such as an under-display fingerprint sensing device, may use oblique angle filters to capture the strongest signals to improve the image contrast.
Well, that’s all very exciting, though other reports suggest we’ve got some time to wait before we see this kind of Touch ID on the iPhone. And the patent even mentioned that the technology wasn’t just limited to phone screens and could be used in a wearable device, like, presumably, an Apple Watch.
And, on the same day, Apple also released another patent, with related news. And it’s also pretty cool.
It’s titled “Detecting a Gesture Made by a Person Wearing a Portable Electronic Device” and as you read it, it suddenly says, “The display can also provide an input surface for one or more input devices, such as, for example, a touch sensing device and/or a fingerprint sensor. It’s not the main purpose of the patent to allow the watch (or other wearable) to determine which limb is wearing the device, but it does indicate that Apple is really focusing a lot of firepower on the perspective of under-display sensors.
In other words, we may have to wait a while for under-display sensors to hit Apple products, but it seems likely they’re on the way. Who knows, maybe the Apple Watch will have Touch ID under the display first.