Interview – Next Biometrics CEO Tore Etholm-Idsoe
30 November 2015 11:02 GMT

0

By Craig Guthrie, deputy editor

Fingerprint sensor deployments on smartphones and tablets have dominated the news in 2015, with reports surfacing almost daily of devices around the world deploying a dizzying array of different sensor styles and formats.

Norway’s NextBiometrics is one of the main players - just in August it revealed a new series of ultra-thin bezel-free fingerprint sensors designed specifically for authentication on the go.

However, Next has also differentiated itself in the market by refusing to compromise on performance and becoming embroiled in a potential race to create the smallest sensor.Stating the importance of mass user acceptance for the industry’s future, NEXT has insisted that a reliable fingerprint system cannot compromise on sensor area.

In this, the first part of an interview with Planet Biometrics, Tore Etholm-Idsoe, CEO, Next Biometrics, explained how this approach will be crucial as we now approach a wide range of applications outside the highly focused smartphone segments.

In part two, we will cover the future of sensors on smartphones

We hear often about new Next Biometrics deployments and sales, how does it feel to be so active in so many segments ?

The NEXT core technology, called the Active Thermal Principle, is applicable to a wide range of applications. Basically, all our modules are based on the same sensor so it’s quite easy for us to serve many different market segments.

We separate our markets into four categories - the traditional (PAC etc.) and then smartphones, notebooks/tablets and then the fourth very exciting - Next-enabled segment.

Many applications need this combination of large size sensors and a low cost.

This ‘Next-enabled’ sector is very important going forward for our industry - because in a notebook or tablet the user always has a "Plan B" option, a pass-word or Pin code. That opportunity doesn’t exist in a key fob or a token or possibly a smartwatch.

It is fairly easy for us to serve these segments with our core fingerprint sensors, and right now we have more than 60 “NEXT-enabled” projects around the world.  Among these there are projects within Smart Homes, Internet of Things, and other innovative areas.

Multinationals are putting lots of investment dollars into this and it is very exciting stuff – we are talking players with the ability and marketing power to push this into more than millions of users per year.

We take care of larger customers ourselves, and have distributors in all the main markets in Asia and other regions to take care of smaller customers.

The Apple-effect is now reaching far beyond smartphones tablets and notebooks – into a wide range of important new opportunities.

Why has NEXT kept such a focus on the size of sensors? Especially when the sensor size is reduced below recommended level, and is there a risk low budget implementations of sensors by other manufacturers could threaten the market in future?  

With these new applications, one cannot make compromises on the size of the sensor – by the very nature of our fingers, the applications and user behaviour - one will never be able to offer a small size sensor if the application needs to work for close to a 100% of the population.

This has also been the case in many years in traditional markets. For people selling access control systems to a company, it is of course key that close to a 100% of the employees can use the systems securely and without a lot of false rejections.

This is confirmed by sensor standards that have been developed in the public sector – they demand large sensors.

This will be key going forward for our entire industry. So far, in smartphones and notebooks, sensors have been offered as a small convenient device meant to serve a limited number of the population.

And if you dig into this, we believe you would find that no more than 30-40% of iPhone users are actually using the fingerprint functionality. In a Galaxy its even less.

In notebooks when these featured swipe sensors, leading manufacturers confirmed to us that less than 5% of sensors implemented in Notebooks were used.

Such numbers are potentially very problematic for our industry, as was documented when the poor user performance of these swipe sensors on notebooks which nearly killed the fingerprint sensor industry some years ago.  Adoption is key.

Thanks to Apple and their implementation of area touch sensors they have revived the entire industry but going forward the end user and we believe Apple – will require more functionality from the sensor.

We can’t go forward having a limited number of the population actually use the sensors.

People expect to make payments, use the phone to enter doors and expect the sensors to access important applications in the cloud.

They also have to be a very secure, and work all the time, under all normal mass market conditions – indoors and outdoors.

I believe every serious biometric expert in the world will confirm this, that you simply cannot make serious compromises on sensor size.

What do you see as the bigger driver and biggest potential challenge to the fingerprint sensor market over the next 6 months?

The drivers of our industry will be payments, cloud access, enterprise access and a long range of new small device product implementations. All of these are of a nature that requires the systems to function securely and conveniently under all normal mass market conditions for close to 100% of a given population.

The greatest challenge will be to establish a proper understanding of this in the market, by explaining that larger sensor sizes result in more accurate readings.  If sensor suppliers sell small sized sensors and claim in their marketing that such systems will work for a very high percentage of users, then we will potentially destroy our industry.  Just as it happened when customers stopped using their swipe sensors due to sky high numbers of false rejections.