Synaptics is an understated innovator in the human interface and end user experience technology space, and many of the hottest smartphones, tablets and PCs have their technology inside. The Samsung Galaxy S7, Apple iPhone 6S, Dell XPS 15, Microsoft Surface and Surface Book, and HP ENVY are just a few of these products I’ve personally used. One of the interface technologies that Synaptics excels at are fingerprint sensors. While most of the PC “swipers” are Synaptics today, the company has been working with both PC OEMs and smartphone vendors over the last two years to integrate their latest fingerprint technologies into a multitude of devices. Synaptics has also taken their finger print sensor and integrated them into their own touchpads and has the unique position of being able to get their customers to integrate both into their devices. However, the fingerprint sensor ecosystem requires a robust back-end to enable use cases outside of secure PC login and password replacement. While PCs were the first to have biometric finger “swipers”, the PC has lagged behind smartphones and tablets. I’m hopeful Synaptics latest technology can change all that.
USB Fingerprint Security Key mockup (Photo credit: Synaptics)
Synaptics has been working with partners like Microsoft and Lenovo to make computers more secure with multi-factor authentication. Biometric methods of authentication help to reduce the probably of unauthorized access and at the same time improve the user experience. We have written on that here. Synaptics’ Natural ID technology is designed to work with technologies like Windows Hello and Microsoft Passport, which already give them legitimacy in the Windows 10 world. Microsoft Windows 10 is designed to be the most secure version of Windows ever while also being the most user friendly, so native support for things like biometric authentication are logical.
Synaptics is introducing a new ultra-small form factor USB module that enables the use of their Natural ID fingerprint authentication on any PC with a USB port. This module will primarily be focused on notebooks and notebook users, but could theoretically be used for any PC. The USB dongle is a turnkey solution for OEMs, ODMs and other manufacturers to offer an inexpensive finger print sensor into PCs without one. The dongle is small enough to remain installed in any notebook USB port and with enrollment can be used to enable features like Windows Hello and Microsoft Passport.
This solution is merely a short term solution until more PC manufacturers like Dell, Lenovo, HP and Apple figure out that fingerprint sensor technology has reached a point where it both improves experience and security. With nearly all flagship and mid-range phones featuring fingerprint sensors, it is almost inevitable that fingerprints will drive a lot user experiences on all platforms, not just mobile. The company’s new fingerprint reader adds yet another form factor to the other offerings that Synaptics offers their customers in order to best satisfy their form factor needs. In some notebook designs it may simply not make sense for them to integrate a fingerprint sensor into the wrist pad or touchpad quite yet but the manufacturer may still want to offer fingerprint sensing as a feature.
While I am disappointed that PC manufacturers like Apple, Dell, Lenovo and HP Inc. haven’t included enhanced fingerprint readers yet into their personal computers, I am hopeful that 2016 will be the year this happens. There are pragmatic reasons they haven’t done this, but the lack of integration is yet another example we can all point to showing PCs are behind the curve.
Synaptics is constantly pushing the industry towards new user interface experiences and improved security. With their new USB dongle, they are making it easier for anyone to implement a fingerprint sensor on their PC and integrate it with next-to-no engineering effort. There are also opportunities for people to add this dongle to their keyboards and other USB peripherals that might have a USB port. The fingerprint sensor dongle will sample in Q3 this year and mass production is expected in Q4 this year, meaning that we could see these very low profile fingerprint dongles in PCs by the end of this year.