With the introduction of Touch ID in the iPhone 5S, Apple Inc. opened up a number of possibilities for its fingerprint sensor. Some of have already been rolled out to its latest iPhones, such as its mobile payment service Apple Pay. Now, the company is exploring how it can move the fingerprint sensor on the iPhone and iPad’s home button to the display itself.
Apple's intentions were revealed in a patent it filed last year with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a month before it released the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Titled “Fingerprint Sensor in an Electronic Device,” the patent describes a way Apple can incorporate fingerprint scanning into a display without degrading the viewing quality.
In one embodiment, the fingerprint sensor would be placed at a fixed location on the display, similar to how Touch ID currently operates with the iPhone and iPad’s home button. Expanding on that, another implementation would turn the entire screen into a fingerprint sensor, enabling an iOS device to scan multiple fingerprints at the same time or even an entire palm.
While the feature could be used to further enhance security of users' devices, the multiple fingerprint and palm scanning features could also find their way into enterprise applications, a market segment Apple is looking to make inroads in through its partnership with IBM.
Apple’s interest in fingerprint scanning goes back to 2012 when it acquired AuthenTec for $356 million. The technology made its way into Touch ID a year later.
The company credits Apple engineer and AuthenTec founder Dale Setlak as one of the inventors of the process described in the patent application. Other Apple employees credited include Markduke Yousefpor, Jean-Marie Bussat, Benjamin Lyon and Giovanni Gozzini.
It’s unknown at this time if Apple has any immediate plans to commercialize the invention in future products.