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HTC's implementation of the fingerprint sensor shows why others have failed in this before

HTC's implementation of the fingerprint sensor shows why others have failed in this before
Shortly after the introduction of the Apple iPhone 5s, HTC lifted the veil off of its One max phablet. The only similarity between the two? They both have a fingerprint sensor.

After Apple has successfully incorporated its Touch ID feature into its iPhone 5s, one would think that fingerprint sensors will be a new standard feature on most high-end smartphones going forward. And, with the introduction of the HTC One max, it seems like we'd be right to think so. However, something in the implementation of the One max's sensor kind of makes it obvious why other companies that have previously tried to introduce this technology have ultimately failed. In short: HTC's fingerprint sensor is difficult to use, and it's not integrated well with the software of the device.

It's true that the functionality of the Touch ID sensor of the iPhone 5s is a bit limited. You can use it to unlock your phone or authorize iTunes purchases. However, as limited as this can be, these are two very frequently made actions, which means that you're basically using the fingerprint sensor all the time, and while it's not flawless, it works quite well almost all the time. When you think about it, though, the fingerprint sensor of the iPhone 5s manages to become one of those features that are quietly working behind the scenes, being almost invisible, yet making your life significantly easier. It makes your iPhone 5s secure, yet you can unlock it as fast (or even faster) as if you didn't have any kind of protection. Entering a lengthy password for app purchases is always an annoying experience, but thanks to Touch ID you can now bypass that, and stay secure at the same time.

HTC One max and its fingerprint sensor

HTC One max and its fingerprint sensor

Now, let's see what HTC's fingerprint sensor is bringing to the table. Let's start with its positioning, which is absurd. It's on the back side of the phablet, just below the camera. That's really unfortunate, because unlike Apple's Touch ID, HTC's sensor requires a swipe. This means that you'll inevitably leave your fingerprint on top of the glass covering the camera lens almost every time you try to use the sensor. Furthermore, the One max's fingerprint sensor isn't very easy to be felt by touch alone. It's almost flush with the surrounding surface, making it hard to know if you actually have your finger on the sensor or not. As a result, you can often find yourself turning the phone around and looking at its back side, or simply making a number of semi-random swipes, before you get it right.

Anyway, assuming you get used to the positioning of the One max's sensor, there's the software part of the equation, which isn't any better. OK, so you can use the fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone, after pressing the power key. That's all good, but then you can't use it to authorize purchases - it's not integrated with Google's Play Store. Not wanting to leave device unlocking as the sole use of its fingerprint sensor, HTC has come up with a unique feature - you can assign up to two other fingers to open up specific applications. The problem is, it's very, very uncomfortable to swipe any other fingertip through the One max's sensor other than that of the index finger of the hand you're holding the phablet with. That is, as long as you want to do the swipe while holding the phone in the usual way. Of course, nothing can stop you from holding the phone with one hand, and doing the swipe with the other, but it's too much of a hassle - you might as well use a lockscreen or a homescreen shortcut, and it might even be faster this way.

Finally, there's yet another issue with the functionality of HTC's sensor - it doesn't work in any other screen but the lockscreen. So you can, for example, have it set to start the camera when you swipe your middle finger through it, but as long as you aren't in the lockscreen of the phone - it simply won't do anything. Which is... weird? One reason why it might have been disabled in other places but the lockscreen is to save battery. Having it always ready to read your fingerprint might cause it to draw too much power over time, but whatever the reason - it simply makes the usability of the sensor extremely low.

iPhone 5s and its fingerprint sensor

iPhone 5s and its fingerprint sensor

And there you have it - HTC has perfectly illustrated why other companies which have previously tried to incorporate fingerprint sensor technology into their phones have ultimately failed to achieve anything big. At the end of the day, we can imagine that only those users who absolutely need to have such type of security on their mobile device are going to use the One max's fingerprint sensor - and they sure aren't going to have the time of their life doing so.

It's still early to say if fingerprint sensors will really take off, but if anything, Apple has shown that they can be both useful and easy to use. Would you like to see the fingerprint sensor become a standard weapon in the arsenal of Android phones? Sound off in the comments below!

56 Comments
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posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:01 21

1. NexusPhan (Posts: 625; Member since: 11 Jul 2013)


I don't use passwords or lockscreens. Never have and never will. If I misplace my phone I'll just remote lock it from the Android device manager. No need for passwords or lockscreens at all. For me, fingerprint readers are complete gimmicks.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:14 20

4. asulect (Posts: 131; Member since: 27 Aug 2012)


Problem with that is, by the time you get to your android device manager, the person who found your phone already had enough turned off your cell radio and get whatever off your phone.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:22 14

9. NexusPhan (Posts: 625; Member since: 11 Jul 2013)


Valid point. But, I've found thieves are pretty dumb. What is there to steal on phones anyway (other than the physical phone)? Phone numbers?

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:25 2

13. asulect (Posts: 131; Member since: 27 Aug 2012)


Even if you have nothing to hide, nothing will stop the thief making some very expensive 1-900 number phone calls costing your hundred or thousand of dollars in phone bill.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:28 7

17. NexusPhan (Posts: 625; Member since: 11 Jul 2013)


That's smartphone 101. Disable Google Wallet. Cancel SIM card. Blacklist device IMEI.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:31 7

20. asulect (Posts: 131; Member since: 27 Aug 2012)


I doubt you can do that faster than the thief who just dials number on your phone.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:33 2

21. NexusPhan (Posts: 625; Member since: 11 Jul 2013)


Why would the thief call premium numbers to give money to the Russian hackers hosting those premium numbers? I just don't see that happening.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:36 3

25. asulect (Posts: 131; Member since: 27 Aug 2012)


Maybe someone who hates you wants to cause you pain?

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:33 6

22. SupermanayrB (Posts: 614; Member since: 20 Mar 2012)


Right, because calling 900 numbers is what's hot on the streets right now, not selling a stolen phone & making a quick $100-$300.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 17:49 1

48. qxavierus (Posts: 48; Member since: 20 Mar 2012)


If you don't protect your phone, thieves can factory reset your phone, and you can no longer remote lock it. Then they can sell it.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 21:19

52. chocolaking (Posts: 494; Member since: 22 May 2012)


I was like, wtf are you tring to do HTC.. no one really wants a finger printer sensor..

but everything else of htc one max is absolutely great!!!

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 14:24

41. valapsp (Posts: 557; Member since: 12 Aug 2011)


I have always thought with myself that the thief will hard reset the phone prior to doing anything and yeah that simple! (But there is a solution for that too. avira antivirus i guess)

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 14:29 1

42. valapsp (Posts: 557; Member since: 12 Aug 2011)


sorry Avast antivirus :D Let's u hard reset-proof your device.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:20 8

7. 14545 (Posts: 1604; Member since: 22 Nov 2011)


You may not, but most of the corporate world requires it. But this is just another in a long line of HTC fails. At this point, I wonder if HTC even wants to be in business anymore.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:23 4

10. NexusPhan (Posts: 625; Member since: 11 Jul 2013)


Corporate world won't support fingerprint readers anyway tho. They want control of the locking mechanism. Apple doesn't allow it.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:28 1

16. 14545 (Posts: 1604; Member since: 22 Nov 2011)


You are correct in that regard. Usually they require certain permissions of the phone. But finger print readers are used on laptops in the corporate world, so I think it's more about implementation and accessibility. If apple/other OEM's won't open up the API or whatever to corporate apps, then I doubt it will ever be seen as anything more than a gimmick for any OEM. Your average user will never see the need in it.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:31 1

19. NexusPhan (Posts: 625; Member since: 11 Jul 2013)


Very true. The fingerprint readers in laptops can be accessed by IT. Hopefully Apple will open it up so it is actually useful. I was limiting my thoughts to smartphones. But, for now, from a corporate IT view, the iPhone fingerprint reader is not allowable.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 12:14 2

35. bucky (Posts: 2693; Member since: 30 Sep 2009)


This was quite possibly the most normal, hate free debate/convo I have seen on these forums since I joined in '09.

Thank you, it was nice to read.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:30

18. ECPirate37 (Posts: 200; Member since: 14 Jul 2011)


It is sad 14545, but I agree with you. I have been a loyal htc fan for years. I left Nokia (I was a HUGE Nokia fanboy) for htc. I loved their phones. I'm still using my EVO 3D which I LOVE. I tried the One for a week or so, and went BACK to my old phone. Boom sound was nice, but the camera quality wasn't much better than my old phone. Plus I knew the One Max was coming out, and I figured it would have a better camera.

I'm no longer excited about the Max though. The processor is slower than what I originally thought, there isn't a stylus (and I really like having a stylus). What I thought would be the best phone of the year, isn't anything special.

I hope htc gets it together. I really want to give them money for my next phone purchase, but they aren't wowing me.

I WILL say this (and Samsung may have this, I'm not sure)... I don't watch a lot of tv, but I am a HUGE fan of how the One let me put my favorite tv shows in, and when they were on tv, it would pop up on my phone, and I could push the button and it would turn my tv to that channel. THAT was awesome.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 18:22

49. 14545 (Posts: 1604; Member since: 22 Nov 2011)


It's funny that you say that. I am a former HTC user. I was an HTC fanboi until they finally axed SD cards and removable batteries. That was when i had finally had enough. At this point I'm buying phones with the least amount of "cons".

Lastly, to answer your question about the IR app, they both use watch on app, IIRC. So I would assume that anything you can do with the samsung watch on app(if that is what you were using) you did with the HTC one.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:25 1

12. alterecho (Posts: 1098; Member since: 23 Feb 2012)


Of course its a gimmick to you and many others. Since its not available on Android ...yet.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:27 5

14. NexusPhan (Posts: 625; Member since: 11 Jul 2013)


Uh, this article is about the android phone that it's featured on. And it was on other android phones for years. I have had them on my laptop for a decade. I don't use them and never will.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 20:59

51. alterecho (Posts: 1098; Member since: 23 Feb 2012)


Not the way its implemented on iphone. I get the feeling he is denouncing touch security in general because this article thows a bad light on the way its implemented on devices before the iphone 5s and other devices.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:35 4

24. SupermanayrB (Posts: 614; Member since: 20 Mar 2012)


Motorola actually had one on a phone THREE YEARS AGO. Their only problem was putting it on the Atrix & not any of their flagships, until they realized that it wasn't a necessity THREE YEARS AGO.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 12:13

34. buccob (Posts: 2578; Member since: 19 Jun 2012)


I loved that phone, and then after hardware and software failures I hated it A LOT... but the only thing I still MISS about it is the fingerprint scanner... and it was perfectly placed... (though it requiered a press + swipe)

I was able to take my phone out of my pant pocket and blindly unlock it before having it in front of my eyes.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:35

23. Leo_MC (Posts: 1691; Member since: 02 Dec 2011)


For corporation use (corporate mail, vpn access etc) you need a password locked (+encrypted) device.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:39

26. NexusPhan (Posts: 625; Member since: 11 Jul 2013)


Correct. And a proprietary fingerprint lock does not meet those requirements. Which makes it an even bigger gimmick because I would only use a password for corporate use.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 12:32 1

37. Leo_MC (Posts: 1691; Member since: 02 Dec 2011)


iPhones are always password locked; the fingerprint only makes it easyer to unlock the phone.
So iPhones meets all the security requirements.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 13:14

39. DAddYE (Posts: 48; Member since: 04 Oct 2013)


I'll be direct: I think you're plain stupid, in that time a guy could just set airplane mode, read all your email, maybe will find something related to your creditcard, maybe some password, download all your pics videos and so on...

Today a phone is much more used than a pc and can have more sensitive data than anything else.

I do not think that touch id solve all the problems, nothing on this world is uncrackable but with a 3 retries + wipe data can just cover 99% of your needs.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 14:57

44. rd_nest (Posts: 1606; Member since: 06 Jun 2010)


Android device manager pales in comparison to Avast! or Cerberus..

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