One of the more contentious iPhone 8 rumors we’ve
seen recently is the claim that with the removal of the home
button, Apple will ditch its Touch ID fingerprint
recognition technology and
replace it with another form of bio-recognition hardware.

While several possible alternatives have been put forward –
such as
iris scanning,
facial recognition, and even a
combination of technologies – each has its pros and cons,
while it’s still far from clear how Apple would implement them
in a purportedly bezel-free OLED handset.

On the other hand, it’s possible that Apple plans to retain a
fingerprint identification system in the context of a wider
technology which doesn’t rely on Touch ID as it is currently
understood. A new Apple patent application published on
Thursday and discovered by
AppleInsider
offers a case in point.

The patent is called “Acoustic
imaging system architecture” and describes a method by
which a conventional capacitive sensor like Touch ID is
replaced by an array of acoustic transducers laid out beneath
an iPhone display or in its protective housing.

Some embodiments describe the transducers as capable of
generating acoustic waves, or pulses, which propagate through
different substrates, including an iPhone’s coverglass. A
sensing mode then monitors reflections, attenuations, and
diffractions in the sound waves caused by a foreign body – such
as a finger – coming into contact with the responsive
substrate.

According to the filing, the ridges in a fingerprint create an
identifiable acoustic impedance mismatch. The resulting scan
data is transmitted as electric signals which subsequently
inform an onboard image resolver to enable it to create a
two-dimensional map of the surface. Similar to existing
biometric security technology, the digital map is then compared
against a database to authenticate the user.

Crucially, the system is capable of being configured to scan
for particular body parts like a user’s ear or a skin pattern,
in order to determine how the device is being held. Depending
on the implementation, the acoustic imaging system might also
replace an iPhone’s proximity sensors.

Additionally, the design of the acoustic system allows it to be
installed almost anywhere in a device chassis, including
directly under the display, around the screen’s perimeter or
bezel, around buttons and in other, non-input areas like a rear
chassis.

It’s not known if the system just described will find its way
into an upcoming iPhone, but the patent suggests Apple may be
working on sensor technology capable of various feats, with
fingerprint identification being just one of them.

Alternatively, one could envision a scenario in which Apple
considers its implementation of fingerprint recognition
different enough to warrant a subtle re-definition of Touch ID
– as when “Force Touch” on the MacBook
became “3D
Touch” on the iPhone, for instance. Indeed, at this early
stage in the iPhone 8 rumor mill, the uncertainty surrounding
the future of Touch ID may come down to a semantic quibble.

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