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Qualcomm's new fingerprint sensor should be better than Touch ID

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Sensor uses ultrasonic waves to scan a 3D image of your finger

Ever since the iPhone 5S came out in 2013, Apple has had one feature no one could match: Touch ID. Samsung has just caught up with its new Galaxy S6, but in a few months a new technology from Qualcomm will likely best both of them.

Qualcomm has announced a new fingerprint reader that uses ultrasonic waves to verify your fingerprint in 3D, according to today's announcement. Unlike Touch ID, Qualcomm's "Snapdragon Sense ID" technology can read your fingerprint even if it's a little dirty or wet. It can even scan through "glass, aluminum, stainless steel, sapphire, and plastics," which means manufacturers should be able to integrate the fingerprint sensor into the phone's design, instead of having to make a discrete section made of different material just to support the sensor. For instance, the sensor could theoretically be built discretely into the bezel of a tablet.

Works even if your finger is wet

The new technology promises to be more accurate, too, which hopefully means fewer rejected swipes. Qualcomm says that the ultrasonic technology — which has already been used in professional biometric security applications — can "penetrate the outer layers of skin, detecting three-dimensional details and unique fingerprint characteristics, including fingerprint ridges and sweat pores." That detail should also make it harder for someone to copy your fingerprint and break their way into your phone.

Touch ID uses an area-type capacitive fingerprint sensor, which scans a 2D-image of the fingerprint with a press rather than a traditional swipe across the sensor. Apple obtained the technology when it acquired AuthenTec in 2012 — leaving the rest of the mobile industry stuck with competitor Synaptics' inferior product, which was a couple years behind. It appears Synaptics' new area-type sensor is being used for the first time in the Galaxy S6, but come later this year, it might seem old hat compared to Qualcomm's scanning tech.

Qualcomm's Sense ID will be built into its new Snapdragon 810 and 425 chips, and it will also be available as a standalone part. The first devices using the tech should be out later this year.