Mobile phones will soon know your touch.
Fingerprint Cards, a Swedish biometric-security company, said a Japanese electronics maker plans to introduce mobile phones with fingerprint sensors in the third quarter of this year. The technology, which identifies a person’s unique fingerprint when placed on a reader, can be used to prevent unauthorized access to a device.
Japanese phone makers placed a total of three orders for Fingerprint’s components in the fourth quarter of last year. One of those purchases was for at least a million phones, my colleague Niklas Magnusson reported. The demand from Japan has prompted Fingerprint Cards to open a sales and support office in Tokyo. The news sent the company’s stock soaring to its highest level in more than five years.
For Japan’s electronics makers, the big bet on biometrics could be an attempt to differentiate their phones from the myriad other black rectangles on the market. Those companies could use some help. Kyocera, Panasonic, Sharp and Sony are among the nation’s largest phone makers, yet none of them has captured enough global market share to rank among the top five mobile or smartphone manufacturers, according to research firm IDC. Fingerprint Cards declined to name its customers in a press release last month.
But the Japanese companies may have some competition from the world’s second-largest smartphone maker. In August, Apple agreed to pay about $350 million for AuthenTec, which has its own fingerprint authentication and encryption technology. The Cupertino, California-based company has also filed patents of its own for biometric technology. Silicon Valley-based SecuGen and Validity Sensors are showing off their fingerprint tools this week at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
As we cram ever more sensitive information into our smartphones, stronger security should be a welcome addition. But let’s make sure that, like with the passcode lock on today’s smartphones, there is some way to get around these biometric walls in case of emergencies, or when I accidentally mangle my thumb in the car door.