Touch ID has been reduced to a bit-part role since 2017’s iPhone X. Sure, it’s been present on cheaper iPhones and iPads where thick bezels are more acceptable, but for Apple’s flagship products – the iPhone 11 through 12 and newer iPad Pros – it’s been superseded by Face ID.
Apparently that may not be the case with the iPhone 13. TouchID could be back, albeit with a fairly major difference.
In the Wall Street Journal, Joanna Stern writes that “two former Apple employees” have told her that the company is considering featuring both Touch ID and Face ID on the new iPhone. That would make sense in a year when face mask usage will continue to make facial authentication impossible to pull off.
The good news is that this isn’t a return to the thick chin bezel where the fingerprint sensor used to live. Instead, Apple will reportedly switch to an in-screen fingerprint reader — a feature that has been present on high-end Android devices for the last couple of years but has yet to appear on anything running iOS.
Interestingly, Apple may not follow Samsung in using Qualcomm’s super-fast ultrasonic fingerprint sensing technology seen on the Galaxy S21. While Qualcomm declined the WSJ’s request for comment, a former Apple employee said that the company had been working with optical sensors instead, due to their perceived reliability over ultrasonic tech. An Apple patent from last year outlined how an optical sensor could detect fingerprints placed anywhere on the screen.
The source did stress one thing which could put the brakes on anything too ambitious, though. Any in-screen fingerprint sensor, they said, would have to match the security standards of Touch ID as it’s implemented on the iPhone SE, certain iPads and select MacBooks.
The gist of the piece overall is that most of the new and exciting features of the iPhone 13 will already have been seen on Samsung’s excellent Galaxy S21 handset, including a 120Hz screen (likely to be called “ProMotion” as it is on the iPad Pro) and perhaps an ultra-zoom camera of some kind. However, the periscope zoom camera may not be available for this year’s iPhone 13.
All of this is part of Apple’s strategy. Whether it’s wireless charging, water resistance or 5G, Samsung aims to be first out with a technology and then refines it over generations. Apple, on the other hand, tends to wait until the technology is mature before providing a smoother experience the first time out.
That was certainly the case with in-screen fingerprint readers. Anybody who used an early one on Android phones will recall a slower, more finickity experience prone to errors than what we have today. Hopefully, if Apple does decide to bring back Touch ID for the iPhone 13, it’ll pick up seamlessly from where it left off in 2017.