Digitimes Research: Touch IC developers turning to fingerprint sensors

Jason Yang, DIGITIMES Research, Taipei 0

With China handset brand vendors starting to launch flagship products with fingerprint sensors in the second half of 2014, touch controller IC players who have seen thinning profitability have been aggressively developing fingerprint sensor solutions.

During a recent visit to Southern China's touch control supply chain, Digitimes Research found that China-based touch solution developer Goodix will be able to receive fingerprint sensor solution orders for mid-range smartphones from China brand vendors in the second half of 2015 thanks to its glass-covered fingerprint sensor technology, and the company will also surpass Sweden-based FPC to become the largest fingerprint sensor solution provider in China.

China's major online payment players such as Alipay and China UnionPay are coming close to finalizing fingerprint-certified payment standards. In addition to unlocking smartphones, the fingerprint data input will also serve as a certification method for online payment, prompting China's smartphone brand vendors to adopt fingerprint sensor functionality into their CNY1,000 (US$161) mid-range smartphones.

Therefore, creating a fingerprint sensor technology that is reliable and low cost has become a major task for related players in the fingerprint sensor industry in the second half of 2015.

Among fingerprint sensor technologies in terms of contact surfaces, four major solutions - from top-end to entry-level - are commonly used by developers: sapphire, glass, ceramic and film coating. In 2014, sapphire and film coating solutions both entered mass production and were adopted in several mobile devices.

However, sapphire solutions carry high costs and film coating can easily flake off. The chance of glass and ceramic solutions' penetration into the midrange smartphone segment in second-half 2015 will depend on the R&D and mass production schedules for such technologies.

Currently, within China's major touch controller IC designers, Goodix mainly focuses on glass-type solutions; Holitech Technology, which has a tight partnership with BYD, is only capable of providing film coating-based solutions and is estimated to focus on the white-box smartphone segment; and Silead is mainly developing ceramic-based solutions.

Thanks to its solutions' high sensitivity and protection layer of over 300µm, Goodix is currently the only player worldwide with the ability to mass produce glass-based fingerprint sensor solutions.

Glass has a good optical behavior and strong wear- and impact-resistance, and it is much cheaper than sapphire. Glass solutions have received orders from China-based major smartphone brand vendors such as Xiaomi and Huawei and will be adopted into their mid-range smartphones in the second half of 2015.

In 2014, Huawei used FPC's fingerprint sensors, but the competition from Goodix in the mid-range smartphone market in 2015 is expected to greatly threaten FPC's leadership in China's fingerprint sensor industry.