August 6, 2022

Touch ID could soon be coming to an Apple device you least expect

If you’ve ever wished for some sort of biometric authentication system on the Apple Watch, you’re not alone. Apple engineers, too, are devising ways to put the Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the Apple Watch. At least according to a patent application, ie.

Title Electronic device with sealed button biometric detection system,the patent application filed by Apple describes methods of fitting a fingerprint sensor inside a smartwatch. Apart from discussing the technical aspects and the different ways it can come to life, the app also describes some of the use case scenarios.

Patent sketch of the Touch ID button on a smartwatch. (Credit: Apple/US Patent and Trademark Office)

The attached diagram shows a side button that looks identical to the Touch ID power button you’ll find on the iPad Air. The Apple Watch has enough space on the side to accommodate a button of this size, so the idea doesn’t seem too extravagant. In addition to acting as a power button, pressing it will also act as a biometric authentication channel for a variety of tasks.

Interestingly, the patent application imagines putting a fingerprint sensor assembly inside the Digital Crown. The crown would retain its rotation functionality, while the static part in the middle would have a Touch ID sensor hidden behind the flat contact surface.

Notably, the patent also talks about using an in-screen fingerprint sensor, a common solution on Android smartphones. “The display may also provide an input surface for one or more input devices, such as, for example, a touch sensing device and/or a fingerprint sensor,” the proposal states.

Why put Touch ID on an Apple Watch?

It might look like a retrograde movement. After all, why would I need to authenticate my fingerprint template if all I want to do is see the time? There’s a reason the wake-up call is a staple of smartwatches, not just those made by Apple. But the patent application, which was published on July 5, goes through a few key advantages.

The iPad mini has a 100% recycled aluminum construction.
The iPad Air’s Touch ID button appears in a reduced form in Apple’s patent. Adam Doud/Digital Trends

According to the jargon-laden description section, unsurprisingly, a fingerprint sensor on an Apple Watch can “unlock an electronic device, authorize a transaction, send an alert, and/or activate applications running on the electronic device. “. If that sounds vague, let me expand on a few of these scenarios.

The Apple Watch is capable of performing many awesome tasks such as taking an EKG, measuring blood oxygen saturation levels, and making payments among others. Soon it will also be able to detect fever. In the years to come, it could also add noninvasive blood sugar and blood pressure monitoring to its arsenal.

But storing so much sensitive information, especially personal health and banking details, needs to be secure. In such situations, locking that data behind a layer of biometric security is the right way to go.

Then there is the practical aspect. You will no longer need to enter a password or PIN to authenticate a payment. However, Apple isn’t the only smartwatch maker wanting to put a biometric authentication system on a sleek watch.

Samsung is having similar dreams

According to a Business Korea report from 2014, Samsung signed an agreement with PayPal to verify transactions using a fingerprint sensor. Synaptics would have been contracted to provide the biometric authentication modules.

Those plans didn’t materialize in 2022. However, the technology was showcased at an event in 2017 on an Android Wear smartwatch. The sensor was positioned on the strap, just next to the edge of the screen for easy access, as you can see in the video above.

In 2018, Patently Mobile reported on a Samsung patent that placed a fingerprint sensor under the screen, right in the middle. Again, this system has yet to appear on a Samsung smartwatch, but it has given a glimpse of a promising future.

Much like those implementations, we’re likely at a similar stage with Touch ID on Apple Watch. Apple has a patent for the technology and is obviously working on it, but it’s unclear if or when it will be revealed on an actual product. We certainly hope that happens sooner rather than later, but it’s far too early to know for sure at this point.

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