There have been no shortage of fingerprint sensor rumors surfacing since Apple acquired Authentec last year. According to several reports from analysts, including the often reliable Ming-Chi Kuo and the not as reliable Topeka Capital analyst Brian White, Apple’s next-generation iPhone is likely to include a fingerprint sensor. We’ve discussed how it could certainly make a stand out hardware feature for Apple’s expected “S” upgrade, and today the US Patent and Trademark Office published patent applications that show Apple could be experimenting with exactly that (via PatentlyApple).
According to one aspect of the present disclosure, a biometric sensor assembly, such as a fingerprint sensor, comprises a substrate to which is mounted a die containing sensor circuitry and at least one conductive bezel. As used in the description and claims that follow, “bezel” means a unitary, substantially uniformly composed structure, most typically metal or conductive plastic. The die and the bezel are encased in a unitary encapsulation structure to protect those elements from mechanical, electrical, and environmental damage, yet with a portion of a surface of the die and the bezel exposed or at most thinly covered by the encapsulation or other coating material structure
The patent describes a process of embedding a fingerprint sensor into the bezel of a device, which sounds a lot like the finger print sensors Validity was showing off embedded in Android devices at CES this year (pictured right). Apple notes in the patent application that the sensor would be “approximately the width of an average user’s fingertip, but only several pixels tall, typically between 1 and 8 pixels, and possibly as many as 16 pixels tall” when viewed from above.
Apple doesn’t get too into what functions for users the fingerprint sensor would provide, but does note that “the sensor captures a number of thin strips of the fingerprint as the finger is swiped, and the complete fingerprint is assembled in software for use in authentication.”
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In operation, a user swipes a finger over a surface of the sensor. The sensor captures a number of thin strips of the fingerprint as the finger is swiped, and the complete fingerprint is assembled in software for use in authentication. Such a sensor apparatus is typically preferred when a compact sensor is desired. However, the present disclosure is not limited to strip sensors. For example, with reference to FIG. 9, there is shown therein an embodiment 100 of an integrally molded bezel and sensor die wherein the sensor is of a type that is, when viewed from above, approximately the width and length of an average user’s fingertip. In operation, the user holds their fingertip in place over the sensor area, and the fingerprint is scanned, typically in raster fashion. Such sensors are typically referred to as area sensors
A fingerprint sensor could definitely make for a standout, exclusive feature for the iPhone 5S. The majority of big iOS 7 features that we know about won’t be limited to the upcoming device, and Apple typically includes a big new user-facing feature on its S upgrades apart from internal hardware tweaks (think Siri on the 4S and voice control and video recording on the 3GS).