Huawei has filed a patent for a fingerprint unlock sensor that would cover an entire smartphone display, as confirmed to Android Authority. The company envisions the technology being used to unlock apps just by tapping their icons, removing the step of launching an app and authenticating afterward.
Digit authentication – In-screen fingerprint sensors have been panned for being unreliable and slow, and you have to remember the precise location to place your thumb in order to touch the sensor. But most Android manufacturers have continued to use in-screen sensors on their high-end phones even if, like Samsung, they include support for iris scanning as an alternative biometric solution.
OnePlus, meanwhile, even includes an in-screen fingerprint reader near the bottom of the screen on its mid-range Nord. Early reviews indicate the sensor works pretty well, though in-screen readers use varying technologies with some more reliable than others. The Nord uses an optical sensor that's easier to fool with forged fingerprints than ultrasonic sensors that take 3D scans. But an all-screen sensor could be great, especially in the age of face masks where Apple's Face ID can't always be relied on to work.
Touch anywhere — The all-screen sensor that Huawei is touting could be activated in chosen areas of the phone in order to reduce power consumption. That would make sense if you expect to only use the bottom half of the phone for authentication, for instance. Huawei also imagines that the sensor could be used to reveal SMS messages from the lock screen just by placing your thumb on them, without unlocking the phone first. These sound like minor time savers, but also like the sort of thing we'd immediately get used to and then expect of every other phone.
The OnePlus Nord already allows users to quickly access apps from the lock screen by tapping the fingerprint sensor and then swiping between a selection of apps set as shortcuts. But that's not quite as seamless as it would be to simply touch an icon.
If Huawei implements the all-screen sensor using ultrasonic technology it could be a good alternative to Apple's Face ID. If it's too costly then it probably wouldn't make sense, however. In-screen fingerprint sensors have been used as a cheaper alternative to high-end facial authentication that requires 3D depth and infrared sensors.
Patents don't mean sales – While Huawei might think all-screen fingerprint unlocking is the future, Huawei itself has no future outside China, at least not for now. The company's devices are banned in the United States due to the company's status on the U.S. Entity List, and any new phone from Huawei will not support Google apps unless that status changes. The Trump administration claims Huawei could be forced to spy on users of its phones and internet networking hardware on behalf of the Chinese government because the company's founder previously served in the Chinese military. But then, the administration claims all sorts of things.
Huawei recently warned that sanctions imposed by the U.S. will soon cause the company to run out of the chipsets it uses to power its phones. Foreign chip makers are forbidden from using U.S. technology to produce Huawei's high-end Kirin chips. So who knows whether we'll actually see a phone with an all-screen fingerprint sensor reach U.S. shores anytime soon. But if we do, we're ready to touch it all over. Especially if it means we can keep our mask on while unlocking our phone.