Sense ID is Qualcomm's ultrasonic answer to Apple's Touch ID

'Sense ID' promises to detect fingerprints through metal and glass, and encourages damp fingers.

Qualcomm is hoping to take on Apple's Touch ID fingerprint sensor with “Sense ID,” an ultrasonic scanning technology for future Snapdragon chips.

Qualcomm is hoping to take on Apple's Touch ID fingerprint sensor with “Sense ID,” an ultrasonic scanning technology for future Snapdragon chips.

Qualcomm is hoping to take on Apple's Touch ID fingerprint sensor with "Sense ID," an ultrasonic scanning technology for future Snapdragon chips.

Touch ID is generally regarded as the best fingerprint reader for mobile devices, as it can unlock iPhones and iPads with just a light touch in any orientation. But it does have one big weakness: The sensor has trouble recognizing damp fingers, so it can be frustrating to use on humid days.

Qualcomm may have the opposite problem, as it uses an ultrasonic sensor that penetrates the outer layers of the skin and creates a 3D map of your finger's unique traits, including ridge lines and sweat pores. According to SlashGear, Sense ID actually works best when your finger is slightly damp, and may struggle to read drier digits.

On the bright side, the sensor can detect fingerprints through steel, aluminum, glass, sapphire, and plastic, giving phone makers plenty of latitude in their handset designs.

Sense ID also embraces specs from the FIDO Alliance, an emerging industry standard for password-free authentication. These specs allow Qualcomm to store fingerprint data securely on the device instead of the cloud, while still allowing users to log into websites and apps that support the standard. Both Google and Microsoft are members of the FIDO Alliance, so we could eventually see some powerful authentication features built into Android and Windows.

Qualcomm plans to debut Sense ID in its Snapdragon 810 and 425 processors later this year, and will eventually make it available for all 400, 600, 800 series chips according to AnandTech. But it's still early days, and none of the phones announced at Mobile World Congress this week will take advantage of Sense ID. (Samsung's Galaxy S6, meanwhile, is using its own fingerprint scanning tech that it acquired through LoopPay earlier this month.)

Why this matters: Touch ID has been a standout feature for Apple's iPhone, not just for bypassing the lock screen, but for making mobile payments and adding extra security to apps. With Qualcomm entering the fray, Android and Windows phone makers will finally be able to catch up, as they'll have a ready-made solution from a major mobile chip vendor. They'll just have to encourage users to work up a bit of a sweat first.

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Tags Applequalcommbiometric securityFIDO AllianceSenseMWC 2015

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