Qualcomm is using ultrasonic waves to scan all of the ridges and wrinkles of your fingers. Why ultrasound? Qualcomm says it can do a far deeper analysis than the 2D image created by a fingerprint mashed up against a capacitive sensor. It can look beyond the grime and sweat on your fingers and even penetrate beneath the surface of your skin to identify unique 3D characteristics of your print. It’s the same biometric technology developed for government security applications, Qualcomm told me.
Qualcomm execs said the technology could also change the way fingerprint scanners are implemented on devices. Since ultrasonic waves go through glass, aluminum, steel and plastic housings of any phone, they don’t need a dedicated touch pad or button to work. In fact, depending on how it is implemented, you could conceivably touch any part of the smartphone with a finger to gain access to the phone itself. This could make it possible for smartphone makers around the world to be more creative in the way they implement two factor authentication in these devices and will go a long way towards making all smartphones more secure. In Qualcomm’s scanner, high-frequency acoustic waves penetrate the dermal layer of your skin to extract your unique print, down to the ridges on your skin and even your sweat pores. Since sound can travel through things like sweat and other elements, your daily maneuverings don’t get in the way of capturing that perfect print. In fact, condensation generated from your regular activities may actually improve the scan, making it a more reliable method than the current capacitive technology.
Assuming this works as reliably as it sounds, it looks like Qualcomm's fingerprint scanning solution is a leg up above Apple's Touch ID. Sweaty hands and dirty fingers happens a lot more often we'd like to admit, requiring you to make the extra effort to clean them before using Touch ID.
Also, because ultrasonic fingerprint scanners can be placed anywhere on the device, industrial designers will have a lot more freedom.