Apple Patents Fingerprint-Reading Touchscreen without Sensor

18 Feb
First revealed by AppleInsider, Apple has been awarded a US patent on Tuesday, suggesting that the company is exploring display technology that embeds Micro LEDs and an IR diode to read users’ fingerprints without a dedicated Touch ID sensor. This new design feature may shed lights on its iPhone 8.

 Titled “Interactive display panel with IR diodes,” the document describes a touch display that incorporates Micro LED sensing technology instead of the more commonly used ubiquitous active matrix hardware.
The technology is reportedly being developed by LuxVue, a company Apple acquired in 2014 that specializes in low-power Micro LED displays. LuxVue reassigned this patent IP to Apple in April 2016.
It is rumored that Apple’s next-generation iPhone, the iPhone 8, will have a “full-face display” that removes physical home button and Touch ID sensor. To a certain extent, this latest patent indicates that these rumors may have some grounds.
Current Sensing Technology
The fingerprint sensing technology Apple currently adopts needs a capacitive drive ring to detect users’ fingers during operation. If Apple wants to create a completely clean display surface, it needs to fully integrate, or more likely remove, the drive ring from the front glass.
Apple is also likely to remove Touch ID altogether as it advances to a new system. However, finding a working solution may not be easy because fingerprint sensor readings need to have relatively high accuracy.
The Proposed Micro LED Touch Screen
LuxVue may help overcome this challenge, however, as stated in the patent, Micro LEDs can serve as a surrogate for standard capacitive touch arrays. This is achieved by including IR emitting LEDs alongside the typical RGB LEDs, creating a subpixel displays called “interactive pixels.”
This subpixel arrangement would consist of red, green, blue, IR emitting and IR sensing LEDs, or RGBIRSIR, in a high resolution panel.
It can also be used to determine ambient light. Therefore, Apple no longer needs a light sensor on the front cover of its iPhone.
“Since the technology has just been patented, there is still a long way to go before it can be fully implemented,” commented Roger Chu, analyst of LEDinside. “By using LuxVue’s micro-transfer technology to integrate Micro IR LED and sensors into displays, Apple is aiming to create thinner and lighter models. The company’s ultimate goal is to further incorporate Micro LED displays and sensors to its device. This differentiation will help Apple gain a competitiveness edge in the battle over display technology.”
“The key will be how soon LuxVue can advance its micro-transfer technology,” concluded Chu.