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One year ago, Qualcomm revealed the world’s first under-display ultrasonic fingerprint scanner, the 3D Sonic Sensor, which promised to accurately scan a fingertip in three dimensions despite contaminants on a device’s screen. The company today unveiled a sequel, 3D Sonic Max, which brings a major new capability to the table: simultaneous two-finger authentication.

Up until this point, smartphone and other mobile device screens were lucky to be able to scan a single fingerprint in a quick, accurate way for user authentication: Most Android phones have nestled fingerprint scanners on their backs or sides, while Apple largely abandoned Home button-based scanners in favor of 3D face scanning for biometric security. Qualcomm has moved towards under-screen fingerprint scanners, though the technology has faced criticism for allowing unauthorized access if a screen protector is in use.

The 3D Sonic Max could improve user security by requiring two fingers to be scanned at the same time. Qualcomm says that the surface area of the scanner is 17 times larger than before, making it “the world’s largest fingerprint sensor” and enabling one or two fingers to be recognized without having to hit a single small area.

Qualcomm says that the 3D Sonic Max delivers 1::1,000,000 rather than 1::50,000 accuracy, a dramatic improvement in fighting fingerprint spoofing and inaccurate results. It’s also faster than the prior 3D Sonic Sensor, but the speed difference hasn’t yet been quantified.

Presently, it’s unclear when exactly we’ll see 3D Sonic Max show up in consumer devices, but some point in 2020 is a safe bet. The key question is which companies will use the technology. Notably, the Korea Times has claimed that Samsung might abandon ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint scanning altogether after this year’s problems, citing the company’s need to remain reliable with low risks of identity fraud when facilitating financial transactions with banks.


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