Synaptics May Be A Premium IoT Company, But It’s Still Cranking Out Solid Fingerprint Readers For Notebooks And Chromebooks

As I've been following and writing about Synaptics over the last few years, I've witnessed a fascinating and transitional time for the company. I've seen Synaptics turn around its financials under its adept new CEO, Michael Hurlston, and lean hard into its IoT efforts. So much so that I believe it's more apt these days to call Synaptics an "IoT" company. However, much I've harped on this point, it's important to remember that Synaptics got its start initially as a manufacturer of trackpads and fingerprint readers—an area where it still excels and claims leadership to this day. Today I wanted to talk about that part of Synaptics' business since I've devoted so much time towards Synaptics' significant expansion into IoT as of late. Let's dive into the latest announcements out of the business that originally put Synaptics on the map.


Lenovo opts for the oval

One of the latest wins in this area for Synaptics was Lenovo's selection of Synaptics' Selene family of super slim oval-shaped fingerprint sensors for its forthcoming ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 laptop. The latest generation ThinkPad Carbon will leverage Selene for its Power-on Touch Fingerprint Reader button, which allows users to securely log in and power on the notebook with a single touch. 

As a tech analyst, I've spent time with many Lenovo devices, and I will attest that when it comes to device security, Lenovo does not mess around. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon, in particular, has a reputation for being one of the most secure notebooks available. The fact that Lenovo chose Selene is, in and of itself, a testament to the security of Synaptics' biometric authentication technology, which is both Microsoft Secure Bio compliant and FIDO-certified. 

Selene boasts Synaptics' fully hardware-encapsulated Match-in-Sensor technology for fingerprint authentication. This technology enables a single device to execute both input and output functions via an in-sensor microprocessor running firmware. According to Synaptics, this gives the sensor an extra level of security since everything—fingerprint image enrollment, pattern storage and biometric matching—is isolated from the host OS. 

The last thing I'll see on this bit of news is that Selene is an excellent example of Synaptics' clean, industrial, streamlined design. The slim profile of Selene is likely attractive to Lenovo and other OEMs since it allows them to continue reducing the profiles of their devices while optimizing their valuable real estate. While the Carbon X1 features Selene above the keyboard, Synaptics says that OEMs can also install it on the outside edge of notebooks if they so choose. As Lenovo points out, this could be convenient for docking situations since users wouldn't need to open up the laptop to authenticate. All of this to say, Synaptics designs its solutions to be easily incorporated into different notebook OEM's designs without being obtrusive, awkward or garish. It's a strategy that pays dividends, judging by Synaptics' long reign as the leading provider of fingerprint sensors to the laptop market.

Getting "in touch" with the Chromebook market

Another PC-related announcement came in early February when Synaptics revealed its entry into the world of Google's wildly popular Chromebooks. The company's new S9861 TouchPad modules are now fully qualified by Google and have secured a spot on its approved vendor list for Chromebooks. Synaptics describes the new TouchPad modules as "best-in-class options for OEMs looking to design differentiated next-generation Chromebooks, for users who want the highest quality, productivity and experience." 

Affordable, high-quality notebooks have only gained in popularity since the onset of the pandemic, with more people than ever working, schooling and socializing from the safety of their bedrooms via Zoom and other video conferencing solutions. Synaptics' Saleel Awsare, the SVP and GM of the company's PC & Peripherals Division, described this sea change as going from "one PC per household, to one PC per person." As a result, the demand for laptops across the board has accelerated dramatically. Google purportedly shipped 11.2 million Chromebook units in Q4 2020, alone, up 287% from Q4 2019. 

Wrapping up

While some are slowly returning to the physical office and schools, I believe the work-from-home experiment has been successful enough to stick around indefinitely in some way or another. These were trends that were already happening; the pandemic only accelerated them. PCs, such as the two we looked at today, will continue to be in high demand. With its fairly unchallenged leadership position in touchpads and fingerprint sensors, Synaptics stands to benefit significantly from this societal shift. 

Along with that trend comes the new cyberthreats and security challenges that have arisen from so many work devices leaving the safe (relatively) confines of the office's private network. Security and data privacy are always essential factors to keep in mind when designing products, but perhaps even more so for laptops such as Chromebooks and ThinkPads marketed for productivity on the go. Synaptics sensors, like Selene, enable the effortless, highly secure biometric authentication that the enterprise and other markets demand in this day and age. The company's clean, industrial designs are just icing on the cake. 

The future is looking bright for Synaptics right now. Yes, it is now apt to call it an IoT company. We certainly shouldn't call it solely a trackpad company anymore. Whatever box you put Synaptics in, it is still a force to be reckoned with in laptop biometric interfaces. And given current work and societal trends, I wouldn't count on that changing anytime soon.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article. 

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.