Smartphone security concerns prompt makers to turn to biometrics

Number of smartphones with fingerprint sensors to increase tenfold by 2017, says IHS

Smartphone security is a growing concern of both consumers and enterprises. Many owners either do not secure their phones using passwords or use easy-to-crack passwords, exposing the data on their phones to hackers and thieves.

To address these concerns, smartphone manufacturers have turned to the use of biometrics, such as fingerprint scanners, to improve security and prevent unauthorized access to the devices. The latest one to do this was Apple, which included a fingerprint sensor in its latest iPhone, the 5S.

Fueled by Apple's decision, the number of smartphones with integrated fingerprint sensors is expected to increase tenfold over the next five years, predicts market research firm IHS.

A total of 525 million smartphones with integrated fingerprint sensors will ship in 2017, up from 45.7 million this year and 4.5 million in 2012.

The arrival of the iPhone 5S is triggering a wave of new fingerprint-enabled smartphones that follow Apple's design lead. This is a familiar pattern in the smartphone and tablet markets, where Apple has spurred major market growth for technologies including touch screens, motion sensors and microelectromechanical system microphones.

New fingerprint-enabled phones include HTC's One Max, the Konka k5 Van Gogh and the Pantech Vega Secret Note.

IHS expects Samsung to roll out fingerprint-enabled smartphones in 2014. Together with Apple, Samsung is likely to drive most of the volume in the smartphone market, leading to the half-billion unit shipments forecast in 2017.

"Fingerprint scanning for security, authentication and other purposes has always been a conceptually attractive solution in smartphones. However, cost, size, performance and reliability issues have prevented fingerprint sensors from attaining widespread adoption," says Marwan Boustany, senior analyst for MEMS and sensors at IHS.

"With the introduction of the iPhone 5S, Apple has overcome these challenges and has offered a fingerprint sensor solution that delivers seamless functionality. Now that Apple has shown the way, competitors are in a race to enter the market with similar systems, propelling rapid growth in the coming years," he adds.

Fingerprint technology will be initially limited to high-end smartphones before migrating to the mid-range smartphones. This will likely remain the case until the close of the forecast due to cost issues, IHS predicts.

For more:
- see the IHS release

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