It's official. Apple's iPhone 5S sports a fingerprint scanner that Apple is calling Touch ID. Being that this new feature was so important, we wanted to wait until Apple officially unveiled it and explained it before releasing our new report. Take a look back at Apple's biometric patent applications as they unfolded starting back in 2009 and then quickly ramping up eleven months ago until their latest patent which was only revealed a few days ago. What an exciting journey it's been – and it's only begun!
Apple began filing for biometric patents in relation to a fingerprints scanner as far back as 2008. The first interesting one was covered in our 2009 report titled "Apple Files an Enterprise Quality Biometric Security System Patent for iPhone."
In-between Apple's first published patent application on biometrics and their second in October 2012, Apple quietly acquired AuthenTec in July 2012. This was to expedite Apple's project for an e-commerce wallet application referred to by the Apple community as the "iWallet." Apple described an electronic wallet in another 2012 granted patent. In following patent applications Apple referred to the iWallet in terms of a "transactions" app, a "shopping" app and others.
In order for this application to be taken seriously by the financial community, Apple sought to incorporate biometrics into an iPhone such as fingerprinting, eye, face and/or voice recognition as part of the authentication process of a transaction and AuthenTec had the know-how to get it done.
Apple's research project really began to take shape in October 2012. Our report on this patent was titled Apple Invents Biometric Features for e-Commerce & Security. The focus of the patent was integrating the fingerprint scanner beneath the "Slide to Unlock" iOS screen element.
Highlights of the patent covered new ideas including the scanner possibly being integrating into the bottom right corner of the iPhone bezel. It covered doubling the security with a security camera being concealed under the center of the iPhone screen to either add face and/or eye recognition. And finally, Apple's invention clearly tied the new biometric security measures into an e-commerce context.
Apple's next major biometrics invention surfaced in May of this year verifying the idea of using a camera under the display but went one step further in that the scanner would be underneath the center of the iPhone display and would only be activated when the user tapped on a fingerprint reader "app" that Apple would make available. This way it wasn't forced on everyone. It would be up to the user to choose whether to use this feature or not.
Patently Apple's Report on this patent was titled Apple Invents a Wild New Display that could conceal a Camera, Strobe Flash and/or Fingerprint Scanner until Needed.
The next important biometrics-related patent came only weeks later. Our report covering that particular patent application was titled Apple Invents a Fingerprint Scanner that could be Discretely Hidden within the Bezel of an iDevice, MacBook & Beyond.
Apple's patent application was covering future applications of building fingerprint scanners into PC peripherals, stand-alone devices, used in security applications such as safes, vehicles, or entering buildings.
At the heart of Apple's patent application they stated that "The substrate may have leadlines or the like formed thereon to allow electrically interconnection between the bezel and other circuitry. The bezel may alternatively be a solid body or part of a bezel frame. A single bezel may be integrally molded with the sensor die in an encapsulation structure."
Each new fingerprint patent that came to light was another piece of the overall puzzle. Each new patent introduced new ground. Patently Apple broke the news of an original AuthenTec patent discovered in Europe that was assigned to Apple. In this patent we learned about AuthenTec's fingerprint scanning technology being able to detect "live human tissue," and the various scanning patterns it could choose from to ensure that the print was authentic. Financial institutions want to ensure that the level of security in a fingerprint scanner could make transactions easy to use, yet secure to avoid fraud.
Our report covering that particular patent application was titled A New Fingerprint Sensor Patent from Apple Surfaces in Europe.
And finally, as if it were custom tailored for the iPhone Event, Patently Apple discovered another new fingerprint scanner patent application in Europe that was a blockbuster. The patent detailed a fingerprint scanner being built right into the Home button of the iPhone and future iDevices.
In this patent application we learned that the Home button for iDevices, especially a future iPhone, would operate in two modes: Sensor or NFC. Of course NFC was an example technology being emphasized though Apple held the right to use an alternative near field technology like the one used in iOS 7 for AirDrop as was pointed out at this year's World Wide Developer Conference by Craig Federighi.
The patent pointed to the fact that the hybrid fingerprint scanner with NFC (or alternative) would be able to mate with external devices without having to use a lightning or USB connector. The patent also hinted at wireless charging being integrated into a future iPhone dock.
And lastly, the patent illustrated that the fingerprint scanner could fit on the top or sides of a device like an Apple TV or television. Our report covering that particular patent application was titled Phenomenal Patent Details Fingerprint Scanner with Advanced NFC Application Built Right into the Home Button.
The Naysayers Lose Again
At the end of the day, Patently Apple has been reporting on fingerprint and biometric security patents going back to 2009. That's four years from a first published patent and five years since it was actually filed. Our chronological listing of patents in this report illustrates the creative journey that Apple's R&D teams have been through in order to deliver the new ID scanner for the iPhone 5S and future products to follow in Q4.
In that same time frame there have been countless naysayers claiming that it would never happen. What's new about that? It's the very nature of naysayers to be negative and to make false claims that patents don't predict products. How silly.
For those of us who understand that the invention process is long and tedious, it's always a pleasure to see a project years in development finally come to life. Many of us understand the long hours, the draining pressure of pushing to develop that which has never been done or more importantly, done right. This is what makes them the Crazy Ones of Cupertino.
When one patent in a category wins, the entire list of patents from the same biometrics research team at Apple wins. Any invention with multiple patents has a crossover of ideas. In 2007 when Steve Jobs said that the iPhone was protected by 200 patents, I laughed. We only covered about a dozen and we never really found the other 185. But they were there, buried somewhere in patent applications with the strangest titles.
It goes to show you that a new product isn't made up of a single invention. It's a huge collection patents with no verbiage connecting them to a future major product in the making. We're simply lucky when we can get our hands on a larger scoped patent that reveals a full concept.
Today, we celebrate Apple's bold fingerprint scanner invention and the research teams at Apple that made it come to life. And it's only the beginning. Lastly, it's also a victory for our fans that have been following Apple's patents as we present them each week. You got to see one of Apple's coolest features in development before it every came to light in the iPhone 5S.
Over the next 18 months we're likely to see many more patents come to life, and it's going to be a blast to see which of them come to life next.