Chip giant Qualcomm has announced new fingerprint scanning and authentication technology at Mobile World Congress in Shanghai, technology that should make it easier for manufacturers to embed fingerprint scanners under the display of any smartphone.

With 2017 flagship phones going big and bezel-free with their front displays, the race is on to work out how to get fingerprint scanning technology embedded under a screen. So far this year, the LG G6, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, and the Essential Phone have all settled for putting the fingerprint sensor around the back.

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Rumors swirling around the iPhone 8 hint that Apple is also struggling to get its Touch ID technology integrated into the phone display, and may put the sensor around the back of the handset for the first time. With Qualcomm's new innovations, phone makers should have a much easier job from 2018 onward.

The new sensors unveiled by Qualcomm work under displays, glass, and metal, can recognize swipes in different directions, and detect heartbeat and blood flow for good measure (just in case someone's trying to log into your phone with your severed finger). As an added bonus, it all works underwater too, if necessary.

"We are excited to announce Qualcomm Fingerprint Sensors because they can be designed to support sleeker, cutting-edge form factors, unique mobile authentication experiences, and enhanced security authentication," said Qualcomm's Seshu Madhavapeddy in a statement.

They should certainly give manufacturers more flexibility when it comes to phone design when they hit the market in the first half of 2018. They can work through phone displays 1.2 mm (0.047 in) thick, glass that's 0.8 mm (0.031 in) thick, and aluminum that's 0.65 mm (0.026 in) thick.

An earlier iteration of Qualcomm's technology is already on the market and embedded in a few phones, including the Xiaomi Mi5s, though this is the first time it will work underneath an actual phone display. The company says that the new sensors also work through materials that are thicker and give manufacturers more flexibility.

That's partly because the new sensors don't necessarily have to be paired with Qualcomm processors, so Apple (for example) could make use of them. However, there is a caveat.

The new tech is specifically designed to work with OLED displays, like those favored by Samsung, so Apple would have to switch from the IPS LCD display material it currently uses – something else that's rumored to be in the pipeline for the iPhone 8.

At the heart of the new sensors is ultrasonic technology, where ultrasonic sound waves are used to map out the ridges of a fingerprint. The way that the waves bounce back tell the sensor whose fingerprint it is. The sensor can capture a 3D image of a fingerprint, too, making it more secure than the 2D capacitive touch technology most widely used at the moment, and it can easily ignore water, sweat, and dirt.

As far as its own CPUs go, Qualcomm says the new sensors will work with a wide range of processors, from budget level ones right up to the high end. Qualcomm also had time at MWC Shanghai to announce a new Snapdragon 450 processor, giving mid-range phones more power, faster speeds, and better graphics in a smaller size, and phones sporting the new CPUs should arrive from next year.

Another new product to break cover was the Snapdragon Wear 1200, a processor aimed at wearables, and at cheap kids wearables in particular. The chip should give child wearables of the future the power to upgrade to 4G LTE cellular speeds rather than the 2G that most are stuck on now, enabling parents to keep an eye on their youngsters as mobile networks across the world get upgraded.

Source: Qualcomm