HTC's implementation of the fingerprint sensor shows why others have failed in this before
This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
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.
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.
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!