Credit: Apple/USPTO

Credit: Apple/USPTO

An Apple patent published today suggests that the long-rumored fingerprint sensor for the iPhone 5S may be built into the phone’s screen, rather than the home button, as had been previously suggested (via CNET).

A fingerprint sensor has been one of the two most persistent rumors for a distinguishing feature for the 5S, the other being NFC. A combination of the two as has been recently suggested - using a fingerprint to verify purchases as well as unlock the device – would certainly be a killer feature, though it’s worth noting that Apple isn’t generally an early adopter of new technologies like cardless payments. Fingerprint sensors themselves are a mature tech, with rumors of iPhone inclusion dating back to Apple’s acquisition of mobile security specialists AuthenTec last year …

Conventional fingerprint readers rely on a small hardware device, like the one retrofitted here to a Samsung S3 by Validity:

Validity, one of the leaders in fingerprint sensors for consumer electronics, has said that this year is going to be when the technology graduates from laptops to mobile devices.

It had been widely speculated that the obvious place to fit a sensor on an iPhone would be alongside or embedded into the home button, but the patent illustrates a more Apple-like approach: something that incorporates the technology without breaking up the design of the front facia even to the marginal extent of a hidden window.

Apple’s technology is slightly different than those embodiments. Rather than use an attached hardware sensor, like most PCs do, Apple’s patent application allows users to place their fingers on a touch display. The company’s technology then analyzes the finger on a pixel-by-pixel basis to determine if it’s a match with the owner’s.

Whether or not 5S production has been delayed, we shouldn’t have too long to wait before we find out which, if either, approach Apple adopts.