Most of the things revealed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona aren’t worth getting too excited about. For example, how many people are really going to be using any of the payment platforms introduced during the conference, or buying the expensive-but-“secure” devices, or paying even the slightest attention to talk about Google’s wireless network or Facebook’s drones?
But there is at least one thing worth paying attention to: Qualcomm’s fingerprint scanner.
The new scanner uses “ultrasonic sound technology” to look at a fingerprint in 3D instead of relying on a two-dimensional representation of the appendage’s bumps and ridges. This is supposed to make it harder for people to spoof someone else’s digit, and it might also make it easier to use the fingerprint sensor even with grimy, sweaty, and greasy fingertips.
Apple’s TouchID sensor is notorious for not working when a person’s fingers aren’t clean. Even a trace amount of sweat seems to throw the thing off, and it’s hard to know if it will work after meals, in the snow or rain, or in any other instance when a thumb might get a little wet. Fixing that problem would make any smartphone much less frustrating to use every day.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons not to secure a phone with a fingerprint. Police can force people to unlock their biometrically-secured devices without a warrant. Hackers can use publicly-available images and software to recreate someone’s fingerprints. Anyone who expects a fingerprint to keep them secure from dedicated intruders is asking for trouble.
Yet that’s no excuse for not making the best fingerprint scanner possible. Anyone who adopts a fingerprint scanner — and I’ll admit that I’m in this category — is making a conscious choice to give up some security in exchange for convenience. If that’s going to be the case, the least tech companies can do is make sure their scanners actually are convenient instead of being frustrating and unusable. Qualcomm, it seems, will now offer device manufacturers and consumers alike the best thing to come to fingerprint reading since inkless ink.