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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!

  • Options

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 (limited) (Posts: 571; 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: 1535; 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: 1535; 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: 2568; 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: 195; 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: 1535; 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 (limited) (Posts: 571; 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: 2566; 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: 1476; 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: 1476; 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: 1593; Member since: 06 Jun 2010)

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

posted on 29 Oct 2013, 07:18

55. lalalaman (Posts: 631; Member since: 19 Aug 2013)

Thieves usually reset the phone immediately...atleast in my country

posted on 29 Oct 2013, 07:23

56. Leo_MC (Posts: 1476; Member since: 02 Dec 2011)

No one can reset an iPhone if Find My iPhone is active.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:02 9

2. android_hitman (unregistered)

apple does it better. yeah

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:13 8

3. maulgandhi (unregistered)

@andrid_hitman. Apple fingerprint sensor is bit shaky. After a week it doesn't work as good as day 1 when you set it up. There has been many articles written about iPhone 5s problems, all of them mention fingerprint sensor; read it online. That's the reason apple didn't implemented in new iPad. can't wait for apple to fail again.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:16 1

5. Commentator (Posts: 3685; Member since: 16 Aug 2011)

...Does that mean Apple doesn't do it better than HTC?

Also, look up "schadenfreude."

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:23 2

11. 14545 (Posts: 1535; Member since: 22 Nov 2011)

I hate apple, but their implementation into the "home button" makes 1000000x more sense than HTC and putting it on the back. That's almost as bad as LG's back button. WHY? At least I can come up with a scenario where the LG button might actually be useful. This, not so much. I mean you would have to go though more work to swipe your finger print on the HTC phone than just typing in a 6 digit pin.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:43 1

28. Finalflash (Posts: 3087; Member since: 23 Jul 2013)

Have to agree with the iCrowd on this one, from and center makes sense, on the back makes 0. This is just a copy attempt that failed, because inspiration is hard to come by these days.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 15:30

45. a_merryman (Posts: 749; Member since: 14 Dec 2011)

Yeah, I said that when it first leaked that this phone was supposed to have a fingerprint sensor. That HTC put it in a dumb spot, yet everyone at the time said it made more sense than in the middle "since the phone is so big", as if someones thumb cant reach the middle of the phone.

In this position, especially with the swipe it is just pointless. If Apple had finally added NFC, they could use their fingerprint sensor to authenticate money transfers over NFC as well as using it to authenticate transferring data to someone else (if they felt a need for that added security). I'm guessing that this is Apple's long game in order to make NFC adoption in the USA skyrocket.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:21

8. frrboom (Posts: 9; Member since: 09 Oct 2013)

Iam sure that is the reason.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:41

27. android_hitman (unregistered)

it was *sarcasm* :)

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:56 2

32. darkkjedii (Posts: 21211; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)

Mine works faster know than it did when I got the phone on 9-20-13. In less than a second my phone is unlocked. As far As waiting for apple to fail again, they've not failed since the newton. iPhones iPads iPods and macs, all major hits.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:18

6. _Bone_ (Posts: 2154; Member since: 29 Oct 2012)

Gimmick. If you understand that it's just another way like PIN or drawing a sign, otherwise you can still go around, and if you realize you don't have time to wipe off your fingerprints all over your screen when someone steals your device, you'll see how useless this thing is.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:27 2

15. ilia1986 (unregistered)

Yeah ok, iPhone 5S fingerprint sensor is better than the one on the HTC one max. We got it.

You can turn your iFanboy mode off now, Ray.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:44

29. wicpromd (Posts: 266; Member since: 20 Aug 2013)

Leave it to Samsung, only they can Innovate it for better being....

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:45 1

30. rabidhunter (Posts: 90; Member since: 05 Jul 2013)

Why even bother wtih fingerprint readers anyway. Seriously, I don't want this on anymore Android phones and it should be abandoned by Apple. There are two better technologies that provide the same features without a fingerprint.

OEM's should focus more on trusted Bluetooth and/or NFC. Trusted Bluetooth is good because you can use it within the range of the device you pair it with. NFC is good because it only works within a small range, the NFC tag can be incorporated into jewelery (NFC Ring) so as to be inconspicuous.

The good news about both is that they can easily be replaced if your phone gets hacked or stolen. They can also be replaced if lost.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:52 2

31. doubler86 (Posts: 320; Member since: 26 Jan 2011)

Let's be honest the first one that will probably implement it correctly on Android will be Samsung most likely on the S5. It would also need Google's help to allow probably Android 4.4.1 or 4.4.2 to use it properly

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 11:57 1

33. darkkjedii (Posts: 21211; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)

I agree with you, that's why apple and Sammy are the big dawgs. +1

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 12:15 1

36. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5711; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

i don't think Android is quite ready for bio-metrics just yet.
let Google bake some bio-metric functionality into the base of Android then we can go somewhere with it.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 13:02 1

38. Stuntman (Posts: 836; Member since: 01 Aug 2011)

I think that Apple has made the best fingerprint sensor for smartphones so far. Just touching the home button as normal and just holding it there is all you need. The other finger print sensors I have seen before required a swipe of the finger across the sensor. Not exactly sure about the HTC one, but I do think it is more awkward to use than the iPhone.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 14:18

40. Esteban4u (Posts: 66; Member since: 15 Oct 2013)

HTC seems to be grasping at straws when it comes to their cell phone experience. They're all over the place. The HTC One was a nicely designed phone hardware-wise, but it's software implementation (Sense 5) sucks. Nice hardware alone couldn't sell the device enough from keeping them out of the red. Now with the Max, they want to copy features from the iPhone but they botched the implementation of said feature. HTC doesn't seem to have a clear direction and they continue to try anything they can to differentiate themselves from the other Android OEMs, except to listen to the consensus among all the cell phone tech blogs/reviewing websites like this one, the Verge and Engadget Mobile who all say Sense 5 and all the gimmicky software features have to go. Had they started doing Google Play Edition phones years earlier, they'd be in a better light today with their shareholders and smartphone users in general.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 14:35

43. marbovo (Posts: 658; Member since: 16 May 2013)

wrong, wrong, wrong, HTC One is selling well acording to HTC CEO, the problem is with its low and midrange, and Samsung has way more features(gimmick) than HTC, and it is selling ton times more.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 16:49

47. Esteban4u (Posts: 66; Member since: 15 Oct 2013)

You really think the CEO of HTC really know what's going on, or even understands what smartphone user's really want? He may have been involved in the decision to continue putting Sense atop of Android when Android has matured and has developed enough capabilities and user-friendliness to not warrant having Sense atop of it anymore. And I'm not advocating Samsung's Touch-Crap either. On the GS4, test done by many tech blogs show it runs faster and battery lasts longer when all of Touch Wiz's gimmicky features are turned off. The results are even better on Google Play Edition devices. Too bad GPE can't improve the crappy camera on HTC One. Good in low light isn't good enough and nobody bought the BS Ultra Pixels marketing. Hardware-wise, the GS4 is not better than the HTC One yet more people buy it 'cause it's marketed better and people saw Samsung as the underdog in Apple's frivolous law suits.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 16:31 1

46. W.P._Android_in_that_Order (Posts: 208; Member since: 15 Feb 2012)

finger print readers are just another way to data-mine you

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 18:39

50. 14545 (Posts: 1535; Member since: 22 Nov 2011)

I actually kind of agree with this. It lets them build a full profile on you. That's just scary in it's own right.

posted on 28 Oct 2013, 22:52

53. tacarat (Posts: 769; Member since: 22 Apr 2013)

My Atrix 4G fingerprint reader was better placed than the ones from HTC and Apple. Your grip stayed secure, unlike the iPhone, and didn't risk interfering with the camera like HTC's. The placement was comfy. I was disappointed when the atrix 2 and HD didn't include the reader. I thought of it as a defining feature for the line

posted on 29 Oct 2013, 00:18

54. Taters (banned) (Posts: 6474; Member since: 28 Jan 2013)

Why did it take this long for an article on how poor HTC ergonomics are? I can write an essay on it. The fingerprint sensor location is the least of HTC's problem. What is really bad is the standby button location and the home button location on the HTC one. Both are horribly inconvenient. Not to mention the curved back that makes the phone rock like a cradle when using it on a table.

This is where Samsung and Apple run circles around HTC. It isn't marketing at all.

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