Samsung will be scrapping what’s widely seen as its worst screen unlocking method with the Galaxy S10 lineup, South Korean ETNews reports, citing industry insiders close to the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer. The Galaxy S10 series is said to do away with the iris scanner found on the last several generations of the product family and go all-in on in-display fingerprint readers, as per the same source. The under-screen sensor will be of the ultrasonic variety, meaning it will be capable of rivaling traditional fingerprint scanners and have the potential to be both faster and more accurate (i.e. secure) than optical readers used by the likes of the Huawei Mate 20 and OnePlus 6T.
The Seoul-based manufacturer is reportedly viewing the new biometric authentication technology as sufficiently advanced to replace both traditional fingerprint readers and Intelligent Scan, its screen-unlocking solution that’s been evolving for several years now but is still being criticized by consumers as clumsy. Removing one of the front-facing sensors found on all of its Android flagships since late 2016 will not only allow Samsung to save on some production expenses (i.e. offset the cost of ultrasonic fingerprint readers) but also facilitate the company’s continued efforts to continue shrinking the bezels of its handsets in pursuit of a truly bezel-free design. It’s still unclear how the company intends to advertise its in-display fingerprint reader but the functionality is likely to get a name of its own given how it should come in the form of an industry-first technology, at least as far as consumer-grade applications are concerned.
Background: Iris scanning has been part of Samsung’s Android flagships since the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 launched in late summer of 2016. Over the following two years, the company worked on improving the capabilities of its infrared sensor and even ended up pairing them with facial recognition in order to improve its reliability, though the end result of that effort has still been described as underwhelming by both critics and consumers alike. Consistency and response times remain the two biggest issues of Samsung’s Intelligent Scan, with the mechanism itself hence being seen as the worst available method of unlocking the company’s Galaxy devices.
Even as Samsung’s screen-unlocking tech improved since its 2016 debut, it’s still heavily crippled in regards to the type of input it can accept, which likely played a major role in the company’s reported decision to scrap it altogether. Even the Intelligent Scan capability of the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy Note 9 lines — which combines facial recognition and iris scanning — requires users to hold their devices almost in perfect parallel to their faces, hence being significantly less convenient than depth-sensing solutions used by the Xiaomi Mi 8 or Apple’s last two iPhone generations. Seeing how users were already expected to pick up their handsets to unlock them with Intelligent Scan, Samsung presumably decided they might as well do so to interact with the new in-display fingerprint reader instead of awkwardly waiting for the handset to attempt to recognize them.
The new screen-unlocking mechanism will rely on ultrasonic authentication, a technology that has already been available to manufacturers for close to a year but has yet to be commercialized on any scale. Compared to the first generation of in-display readers, ultrasonic modules are both faster and more secure, i.e. have a significantly lower percentage of false positive readings (none in practice). They also do a better job at recognizing wet fingertips, which is something that even traditional sensors struggle with. Qualcomm, the world’s first company to offer an ultrasonic authentication solution to OEMs, already touted the technology as a game-changer and a massive quality-of-life improvement.
The Galaxy S10 line is said to consist of three models, with all of them being expected to feature ultrasonic fingerprint readers. The new report pointing toward the discontinuation of Samsung’s mobile iris scanners isn’t entirely unexpected as rumors about that move have been floating around the industry since June. Following what Samsung described as “soft” sales of the Galaxy S9 line, the company is believed to be going all-in with its next series of Android flagships; the handsets are expected to deliver unprecedented screen quality, 7nm chips, triple-camera setups, and even 5G capabilities, though support for next-generation of mobile networks is said to be reserved for the most premium Galaxy S10 Plus model. One of the smaller two devices is also rumored to feature a non-curved screen, marking Samsung’s return to flat flagship displays after three whole years.
Impact: While Samsung pioneered many a mobile technology and has set countless trends in the smartphone industry since the beginning of the century, other manufacturers may not be as quick to embrace ultrasonic fingerprint readers as they were to copy some of its other innovations such as 18.5:9 screens. The South Korean technology giant is still believed to be far ahead in the calibration race and can implement such readers below mobile panels much more efficiently than its rivals can, primarily because its sister company — Samsung Display — is the one making the Super AMOLED modules that will be used in conjunction with fingerprint sensors.
The fact that part of Samsung’s reasoning for ditching the iris scanner from the Galaxy S10 has to do with its ongoing ambitions to commercialize a handset with a 100-percent screen-to-body ratio also suggests the upcoming lineup of ultra-premium devices may not have a 3D camera. While the company is understood to have already found a competitor for Apple’s Face ID in technology developed by Israeli startup Mantis Vision, it’s dubious whether it would be able to implement it while still delivering a series of devices with larger screen-to-body ratios than what the Galaxy S9 family offered. The main selling point of Mantis Vision’s tech is said to be its ability to function inside a slim bezel, which would eliminate the need for a display notch. Samsung criticized such cutouts as unbecoming on numerous occasions in the past and isn’t expected to commercialize them on any scale in the future. One known industry insider recently even claimed the Galaxy S10 lineup will “end” display notches, suggesting Samsung managed to achieve some kind of a major design breakthrough which other manufacturers are likely to follow.