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The fingerprint company that Samsung never bought is now everywhere

The fingerprint company that Samsung never bought is now everywhere


Fingerprint Cards has gone from a weird non-acquisition to making the Nexus Imprint sensors

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Two years ago, a press release was posted to the website of Fingerprint Cards AB, announcing that the Swedish fingerprint sensor maker would be acquired by Samsung in a $650 million deal. That announcement was later retracted and bizarrely debunked as false, and Fingerprint Cards has basically been absent from the public eye ever since. But the Gothenburg-based firm has kept busy behind the scenes, and now it finds itself enjoying a leading role, highlighted most recently by the use of its sensors in Google's Nexus 5X and 6P smartphones. That's right, the company that Samsung didn't buy is now responsible for Nexus Imprint, the technology that Google is using to enable fingerprint verification in the latest version of Android and the newly introduced Android Pay service.

Another Swedish company, Precise Biometrics, provides the fingerprint recognition and matching algorithms that work with Fingerprint Cards' sensors in the new Nexuses. Between them, these two relatively anonymous companies have become the de facto default choice for smartphone manufacturers shopping for a fingerprint reader. The OnePlus 2, the LG V10, the Huawei Mate S, the Oppo R7 Plus, and the Nextbit Robin are just a few of the many new or upcoming smartphones that rely on the Fingerprint Cards technology (and all, except for LG, also use Precise Biometrics). As with Nexus Imprint, these devices are delightfully quick and accurate in their recognition, transforming fingerprint authentication from a poorly functioning gimmick into a legitimately useful feature on Android phones.

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Many iPhone owners might still be under the belief that Apple's Touch ID is far ahead of the competition. It's an undeniably excellent fingerprint ID system, which has vindicated Apple's $356 million purchase of biometrics firm Authentec many times over. Motorola's former CEO Dennis Woodside has even admitted that the reason the Nexus 6 lacked a fingerprint reader was because Apple had taken over the company providing the best solution on the market. Without high quality and accuracy, Woodside rightly posited, there was no point in including the feature. That might have been true at the time of the Nexus 6's development, but on the evidence of the latest phones equipped with fingerprint readers — whether it's the Fingerprint Cards-powered Nexus Imprint or even the Synaptics alternative used by Samsung in the Galaxy S6 — the Authentec leadership delta appears to have all but disappeared.

Momentum for the use and implementation of biometric verification in mobile devices has never been greater, and it's fascinating to see a pair of small companies playing such a key role in that development. Fingerprint Cards doesn't have the business of the two most lucrative hardware partners, Apple and Samsung, but everyone else in the smartphone market seems to now be buying and using its fingerprint readers. Even though Samsung can be satisfied with its present Synaptics sensor, the Korean company might well wish that its phantom acquisition had, in fact, taken place. That would now make it a seller of fingerprint sensors rather than a buyer.

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