When Apple popularized facial recognition to secure iPhones, the lasting innovation was how seamlessly this stitched security into how we use our phones. No more shifting your grip to touch a fingerprint reader or to tap in a code, your phone unlocked, your passwords autofilled, your payments completed—all without moving a muscle.
Now, Huawei wants to do the same—only differently. As reported by Android Authority, the Chinese giant has filed for patents to bring fullscreen fingerprint reading to its next generation of smartphones, which it thinks will be even more seamless than facial recognition. This tech has been talked about before and demonstrated as a concept. Huawei’s move would be the game-changer, though
Of its main rivals, Huawei’s strategy is more closely aligned to Apple than anyone else. Controlling both hardware and software, new ventures into running its own OS and services, an ecosystem that extends across multiple platforms. An innovation such as full screen fingerprint reading—if Huawei is first to market at scale, would be notable for a company that wants to be seen at that level. It could be its FaceID moment.
Users will be able to leave their fingers where they are, tapping on a lock screen notification or within whatever app’s in use, and the screen will authenticate. It’s the next step towards continual authentication. Those lock-screen notifications will become more seamless, simply tapping to respond will unlock the device and take a user to the right application. Huawei says that users will be able to define areas of the screen which would not scan for fingerprints, to limit power consumption.
This news has broken just as the company prepares for the launch of its new flagship, the Mate 40. This will be the third premium device to launch post the U.S. blacklist on the company, following the Mate 30 and P40. Those phones have not sold well outside China, and the company is paddling hard in the background to accelerate its HMS alternative to the Google Mobile Services it now needs to live without.
For Huawei, being seen to innovate is critical to retaining its smartphone user base, and not becoming even further skewed towards the Chinese market. The company’s smartphones are at the heart of its strategy to link a range of smart devices—PCs, TVs, cars, tablets and IoT gadgets—under its “seamless AI life” umbrella, all powered by its cross-platform HMS operating system. The downside of this strategy, though, is that if it loses smartphone users it will find it much more difficult to sell the rest.
And so innovations such as leading the charge on fullscreen fingerprint reading would drive a rallying innovation cry for the company when it needs it most. It’s not clear what the timing is for this, but with us wearing coronavirus masks more of the time, reverting to passcodes instead of facial recognition—if the virus prolongs—could be perfectly timed.
You can expect to see much more from Huawei over the coming months around its ecosystem and its use of HMS to stitch everything together. Huawei will be messaging its ability to integrate hardware, OS software, apps and networking within the same ecosystem. Only Apple, it says, can match its strategy as it looks to build its third-way alternative to iOS and Google’s full-fat Android.
The challenge, the company says now, is to communicate all this to a non-Chinese user base that it needs to shift away from Google to its new OS. As the U.K.’s consumer boss Anson Zhang told me, this strategy has a pretty solid head start. “We have 600 million end-users globally on this ecosystem, with huge levels of R&D—more than 10% of revenues for ten years. This strategy will work.”
Maybe. It’s a strategy that relies on hardware innovation added to its new OS and app ecosystem. And this security shift—away from facial recognition, which has become synonymous with Apple’s FaceID to something that has never done well and at scale, would be a perfect fit. This technology has been heralded as a likely dominant security feature of the future.
Huawei has filed its patents in China, the U.S., Europe, Japan, Korea and India—so all bets are pretty well covered.