When Apple revealed the iPhone 5 last year, many were confused as to why Apple didn't include NFC technology. Apple's VP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller stated at the time that it wasn't clear that NFC was the solution to any current problem. That was a nice misdirection Phil, really. Because as Phil was saying that, Apple had already filed for a wild fingerprint sensor/NFC patent that he was fully aware of. Patently Apple discovered this new patent application in Europe yesterday. The patent filing details an incredible fingerprint scanner with advanced integrated NFC circuitry that will deliver features that no one saw coming! When Phil Schiller gave the Mac faithful a peek at the coming Mac Pro tower this fall, he blurted out: Apple "can't innovate anymore – My Ass!" Well, it appears that Apple may show the world a little more innovation Apple-style next week when they unveil the iPhone 5S. It may even include a newly designed Home Button with an integrated fingerprint scanner and much more. Report Updated 2:30 PM PST. Report Updated September 09, 2013, 6 PM MST
Apple Invents Fingerprint Scanner for iPhone Home Button and More
Apple states that in order to satisfy consumer demand for small form factor devices, manufacturers are continually striving to implement input-output components such as sensors and wireless communications circuits using compact structures.
Challenges can arise when incorporating input-output devices such as sensors and wireless circuits in an electronic device. For example, wireless component should generally not be blocked by conductive structures in a device, which can make it difficult to properly place a wireless component within an electronic device housing. If care is not taken, wireless devices and other input-output devices may consume more space within a device than is desired or may add undesired cost or complexity to a device.
Apple's invention is about an electronic device that will have electrical components such as sensors that have sensor circuitry that gathers sensor data. More specifically, the sensor will be a touch sensor that uses a conductive structure to form a capacitive touch sensor electrode or may be a fingerprint sensor that uses a conductive structure associated with a fingerprint electrode array to handle fingerprint sensor signals.
A touch sensor or fingerprint sensor may have an array of conductive electrodes for gathering sensor data from the front face of an electronic device, an edge of an electronic device, a button in an electronic device, or other portion of an electronic device.
Apple's iPhone Fingerprint Sensor will use NFC
According to Apple, their fingerprint sensor may also be formed using optical structures such as one or more light sources and receivers. Near field communications circuitry may be included in the electronic device.
Circuitry such as filter or switching circuitry may be used to couple both the near field communications circuitry and the sensor circuitry to a common conductive structure. This allows the conductive structure to be shared between sensor functions such as fingerprint or touch sensor functions and near field communications functions.
Two Modes of Operation: Sensor or NFC
To Clarify, Apple states that the control circuitry within the electronic device may operate the device in multiple modes. When operated in a sensor mode, the sensor circuitry may use the conductive structure to gather fingerprint data or other sensor data.
When operated in near field communications mode, the near field communications circuitry can use the conductive structure to transmit and receive capacitively coupled or inductively coupled near field communications signals.
Optical Structure Can Communicate with External Equipment
Apple states that a fingerprint sensor formed using optical structures such as one or more optical transmitters and one or more receivers may gather fingerprint data optically. The control circuitry in the electronic device may use the optical structures of the fingerprint sensor when communicating with external equipment.
Overview of Future Devices with a Fingerprint Scanner
Apple's primary example of a fingerprint scanner incorporated into a device is that of an iPhone as noted further below. However, Apple makes it clear that their fingerprint invention could apply to other suitable electronic devices. For example, the "electronic device" may be a MacBook or an iPad. It could also be a wearable computer such as a wrist-watch device or pendant device. It may also be a headphone device, an iPod touch, a television, an Apple TV set-top box, an iMac, and or other suitable electronic equipment or peripherals.
In Apple's patent FIGS. 6 and 7 noted above we're able to see perspective views of fingerprint sensors designed into the side edges of a device that is an alternative to the Home button location or has no Home button such as Apple TV. In such cases, the sensor can be used to capture a user's fingerprint and/or serve as a touch sensor scrolling operation.
Other Areas to Hide a Future Fingerprint Scanner
While we know that Apple will be introducing their new fingerprint scanner into the iPhone 5S Home button, they do point out alternate areas that a fingerprint scanner could be located in future iDevices.
Apple specifically notes using the patent figure below that a fingerprint sensor/scanner could be incorporated under inactive areas such as #27 and side bezel #15. The sensors could also be located under the display as noted in patent point #14.
The Fingerprint Scanner Integrated into the Home Button
Now we get down to the real fun. The iPhone 5S fingerprint scanner noted below is incorporated into a new Home button structure. Apple's patent filing states that if desired, the fingerprint sensors for the device may be formed using a two-dimensional array of electrodes.
As an example, illustrative sensor circuitry #214 of patent FIG. 4 below illustrates electrode structures such as a metal outer ring electrode #204 and a two-dimensional array 206A which can include up to 5,000 electrodes used to capture a fingerprint.
Apple states that the outer electrode may have a circular shape, an oval shape, a rectangular ring shape, or other suitable shape and/or non-ring shapes.
Apple's next patent FIG. 5 is a cross-sectional side view of the new Home button.
As shown in Apple's patent FIG. 12 below, a user may place a finger over a button during use of a device. The device may use a switch under the button to detect button presses. The device may use sensor circuitry and structures in the button to capture fingerprints or other capacitive sensor data.
Apple further notes that the Home button may include optical structures and transmitters. The transmitters could be infrared or visible light sources such as light-emitting diodes or lasers. Receivers may be, for example, infrared or visible light receivers such as photodiodes or phototransistors.
When it's desired to use transceiver circuitry for near field communications, the structures in the button may be used in transmitting and/or receiving near field communications.
A Next Generation iPhone Dock
Apple's patent filing introducing a next generation iPhone dock was certainly a nice surprise. Apple states that when incorporating NFC structures into the home button, the device may communicate with external equipment such as the docking accessory #130 noted below in patent FIG. 13.
Apple notes that the docking accessory may be implemented using a stand-alone housing or it may be incorporated into a vertical or horizontal slot in an automobile system, a stereo system, television, or other kind of equipment.
Apple Introduces a New Hybrid Sensor & NFC Mating System
Apple introduces us to a new iPhone mating system. As shown above in the cross-sectional side view of patent FIG. 15 we see a configuration that allows wireless near field communication signals to be conveyed between the iPhone's Home button and near field communication structure 132 located in the dock. The traditional connector system using USB or Lightning is non-existent.
In the secondary configuration shown above in Apple's patent FIG. 16 we see how an iPhone may be docked in a horizontal position such as when docking with an Apple TV or a vehicle infotainment system. There's no need for traditional connectors It's just a simple mating of the iPhone's Home button with a matching sensor on the top of an Apple TV or inside an infotainment system, for example. It's all hassle free.
Update 2:30 PM PST: I may be wrong on this next point but I'll throw it out anyways and maybe someone can comment on this. We've just released Apple's patent claims in a new report. Patent claim number 24 mentions inductively coupled NFC communications. This is repeated in the verbiage associated with patent figures 19, 20 and 21 of the new report pointing to forming "an inductor for perfoming inductively coupled NFC with external equipment. Isn't inductive coupling connected to wireless charging? Is this another twist to this invention?
Mating Could Extend to Embedded Systems
With a configuration of the type shown in FIG. 16, Apple further clarifies that the external equipment mating with an iPhone Home button may be a peer device such as a point of sale terminal, a computer, part of an embedded system in an automobile, part of an audio or video equipment, or any other suitable external device.
Technically, it would appear that Eddy Cue may be thinking of integrating this NFC docking system into their future "iOS for the Car" project; a project that has been seen by many as a real threat to those in the in-vehicle infotainment sector. In fact it's quite an ambitious Apple project that could extend into home environment controls.
Opening a Protected Application, using an iWallet & more
In another segment of Apple's patent they provide us with a few examples of actions that could be taken in response to detecting a predetermined electrode pattern "fingerprint." Apple states that it could activate data transfers between an iPhone and equipment performing operations associated with authenticating a logon process. It will also allow users to open protected applications on your iPhone (or other devices). Lastly, Apple states that it will provide added security for point-of-sale purchases and/or any other important financial transaction. In NFC Mode, users will be able to make wireless payments. This obviously ties into Apple's future iWallet application.
Yet other examples include a near field communications reader associated with security equipment (e.g., a door opener to gain access to a building, a hotel room, a car, and/or as part of a badge reader, etc.).
Apple's patent FIG. 28 is a simple flow chart of illustrative steps involved in using a predetermined near field communications signal pattern on an array of electrodes to trigger actions in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.
On Thursday, the Australian SonnyDickson website posted new photos of Apple's iPhone 5S fingerprint scanner as illustrated below.
The next piece of news surfaced yesterday from China's C-Tech (via iLounge) regarding Apple's iPhone 5S packaging. Why does that matter? It could matter because C-Tech's reporter was observant enough to note the oddity of Apple's new iPhone 5S Home button. The report stated the following:
"First picture printed on the side of iPhone 5S words, the style consistent with the iPhone 5S packaging; secondly home button on the front iPhone 5S picture projection surrounded by a circle ... delivered around brushed metal material substances, guess it is possible for fingerprint recognition technology for special design …"
Now that you've read some of the details found in Apple's latest fingerprint sensor patent, the photo noted above doesn't look that out of line.
Update Sept. 08, 2013 7:30 AM PST: In the comments area, we note that a fan by the name of Odinsdad questioned if the design was representing iOS 6. No, the icons represent iOS 7. However, the dark background doesn't ring true. Shouldn't it be a brighter design? I think it should, don't you?
Hopefully we'll see Apple's new fingerprint scanner integrated with advanced NFC technology come to life this week. That would definitely be a rush. Yet many rumors have pointed to a fingerprint scanner over time and reports of it being on time for the iPhone 5S have been both pro and con. At the end of the day, Apple's most recent patent filing regarding a next generation fingerprint scanner is definitely convincing and we're likely to see it surface in the not-too-distant future. However, until it's actually unveiled, it's not a done deal just yet.
One More Thing
Update September 09, 2013, 6 PM MST: I'd like to throw in one more point about the fingerprint scanner that might be introduced tomorrow. During Apple's WWDC 2013, Craig Federighi delivered a Knockout Punch when he introduced AirDrop, Apple's alternative to NFC. He mocked Samsung's implementation Of sharing files by having to physically tap two or devices together using NFC.
Apple's AirDrop made file sharing effortless with being able to send files to many friends or colleagues within a given vicinity. Apple's patents played up NFC for some time and then Apple threw in an alternative, which the patent called for but never named.
The point is that we should keep in mind that while Apple's fingerprint scanner patent dwelt on NFC – Apple could technically switch that out in favor of the very same technology that's behind AirDrop which is called iBeacon.
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Apple's new fingerprint patent was published in Europe on Friday under number WO 2013/130396 A2. The patent's priority date is noted as Q1 2012. Unlike our previous report on an Apple fingerprint scanner patent, this time the inventors were well established Apple engineers and not those from AuthenTec. Apple credits Benjamin Pope, Daniel Jarvis, Scotty Myers, Nicolas Merz and Chih-yun Merz as the inventors of this patent. The applications revealed in this latest patent are Apple invented through and through.
Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
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