Touch ID could soon be coming to an Apple device you least expect

If you’ve ever wanted some sort of biometric authentication system on the Apple Watch, you’re not alone. Apple engineers are also imagining ways to place the Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the Apple Watch. At least according to a patent application.

Titled Electronic device with a biometric sensor system with sealed buttons,The patent application filed by Apple describes methods for incorporating a fingerprint sensor into a smartwatch. Besides discussing the technical aspects and different ways it can be brought to life, the application also describes some of the use case scenarios.

Apple patents fingerprint sensor design on a watch.
Patent sketch of the Touch ID button on a smartwatch. (Image credit: Apple/US Patent and Trademark Office)

The attached schematic shows a side button that looks identical to the Touch ID power button you’ll find on the iPad Air. The Apple Watch offers enough space on the side for a button of this size, so the idea doesn’t really sound far-fetched. Aside from acting as a power button, tapping it also doubles as a biometric authentication channel for a variety of tasks.

Interestingly, the patent application envisions incorporating a fingerprint sensor assembly into the digital crown. The crown would retain its rotating function, while the static part in the center hides a Touch ID sensor behind the flat contact surface.

In particular, the patent also speaks of the use of an in-display fingerprint sensor, a solution that is common in Android smartphones. “The display may also provide an input surface for one or more input devices, such as a touch-sensitive device and/or a fingerprint sensor,” the proposal reads.

Why install Touch ID on an Apple Watch?

It may sound like a step backwards. After all, why would I authenticate my fingerprint pattern if I just want to see the time? There’s a reason raise-to-wake is a staple of smartwatches, not just Apple’s. But the patent filing, which was published on July 5, has some key advantages.

iPad mini is made from 100% recycled aluminum.
The iPad Air’s Touch ID button appears in miniature form in Apple’s patent. Adam Doud/Digital Trends

According to the unsurprisingly jargon-heavy description section, a fingerprint sensor on an Apple Watch can “unlock an electronic device, authorize a transaction, send an alert, and/or activate applications running on the electronic device.” If that sounds vague, let me elaborate on some of these scenarios.

The Apple Watch is capable of many impressive tasks such as: B. to create an electrocardiogram, to measure the oxygen saturation of the blood and to make payments, among other things. Soon it will also be able to detect fever. In the coming years, it could also add noninvasive blood glucose and blood pressure monitoring to its arsenal.

But storing so much sensitive information, particularly intimate personal health and banking information, needs to be secure. In such situations, locking that data behind a layer of biometric security is the way to go.

Then there is the comfort aspect. You no longer need to enter a passcode or PIN to authenticate a payment. However, Apple isn’t the only smartwatch maker looking to put a biometric authentication system on a fancy watch.

Samsung has similar dreams

According to a 2014 Business Korea report, Samsung struck a deal with PayPal aimed at verifying transactions with a fingerprint sensor. According to reports, Synaptics has been contracted to provide the biometric authentication modules.

These plans have not come to fruition as of 2022. However, the technology was demonstrated on an Android Wear smartwatch at an event in 2017. The sensor has been positioned right next to the edge of the screen for easy access on the strap, as you can see in the video above.

In 2018, Patently Mobile reported on a Samsung patent that placed a fingerprint sensor under the screen, right in the middle. Again, this system has yet to appear on a Samsung smartwatch, but it gave a glimpse of a promising future.

Just like those implementations, we’re probably at a similar stage with Touch ID on the Apple Watch. Apple has a patent for the technology and is obviously working on it, but it’s unclear if or when it will come to light on an actual product. We certainly hope that happens sooner rather than later, but it’s far too early to know for sure at this point.

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