Household names like Samsung, LG, Sony and Motorola will spark news at the drop of the slightest innovation, but when a component manufacturer announces a new product, the same hype isn't always seen. Take Synaptics for example, manufacturer of anything from touch screen digitizers to fingerprint scanners, and supplier of these components to many of the well known phone producers on the market. Today Synaptics has announced a brand new fingerprint scanner that's scheduled to go out for sampling in Q2 of this year (i.e. any day now), and mass produced for products in Q3 2017, or just in time for the Fall refresh of phones.
Synaptics new sensor, the FS4600, sports a bevy of features that'll certainly boost the spec sheet of any upcoming smartphone. Among the most important new consumer-facing features are force sensitive presses, swipe gestures, and likely the most important new feature, support for software navigation buttons. Force sensitive presses could help OEMs mimick physical buttons and functions depending on how hard a user presses the fingerprint sensor, so a light tap could unlock the phone, while a hard press could launch the camera, all while securely unlocking the phone via SecureLink™ 256-bit AES with TLS 1.2 encryption. Fingerprint gestures aren't anything new, as Huawei, Google and Motorola have already been using these for a while now, but expanding these features into other phones certainly helps.
The most interesting part in all of this might just be the ability to use the fingerprint scanner with software buttons, something that Samsung likely might have done with the Galaxy S8 if it were available in time for launch. What Synaptics describes here is the ability to use two 0D buttons as Android software keys, something that seems very close to what Samsung seems to have wanted to do with the Galaxy S8's always-on software home button. It's entirely possible that this sort of solution could make its way to the Galaxy Note 8 when it likely launches in the Fall, and we could see full adoption of software keys with no need for a dedicated fingerprint scanner in an awkward location on the back the way the Galaxy S8 has it implemented.