Qualcomm’s answer to Touch ID scans your fingerprint through metal

Sense ID uses ultrasonic waves to map your fingerprint. Photo: Qualcomm

Sense ID uses ultrasonic waves to map your fingerprint. Photo: Qualcomm

Apple’s Touch ID sensor has been the best and most reliable fingerprint scanner since it made its debut in the iPhone 5s, but competing products announced at Mobile World Congress this week could give the Cupertino company some concern.

Not only has Samsung made huge improvements to its own fingerprint sensor for the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, but Qualcomm has delivered an even more impressive alternative called Sense ID that works through aluminum, stainless steel, and more.

It’s still too early to say whether either of these products will be more accurate or more reliable than Touch ID during everyday use, but Sense ID, which originates from professional biometric security applications, certainly looks more impressive on paper.

Using ultrasonic waves, the scanner is able to penetrate the outer layers of your skin to form a detailed 3D image of your fingerprint that’s more sophisticated than ever before. It can map things like sweat pores and ridge flow, and it works even when your finger is wet or dirty.

What’s most impressive about Sense ID is that it promises to work through glass, sapphire, plastic, and even stainless steel and aluminum. That means it can be embedded almost anywhere inside your smartphone or tablet — including behind the display.


We certainly have Apple to thank for making mobile fingerprint scanners mainstream, and for giving the rest of the industry the push it needed to begin developing their own biometric security alternatives that will finally allow us to do away with passwords and PIN codes.

But Touch ID may not be the most impressive fingerprint scanner for much longer. Qualcomm is baking Sense ID into its Snapdragon 810 and 425 chips, and it will be available as a standalone technology, too, later this year.