Apple Acquisition Delays Android Fingerprint API

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Blame it on Apple, said Motorola's former CEO, Dennis Woodside. That's why the Google Nexus 6 smartphone doesn't have a fingerprint reader. Moreover, it's Apple's fault that there's no fingerprint API for Google's Android platform — at least, why there isn't one just yet.

Woodside, speaking to The Telegraph, said the dimple in the back of the Nexus 6 was supposed to be a fingerprint reader. Instead, a 2012 acquisition got in the way. "The secret behind that is that it was supposed to be fingerprint recognition, and Apple bought the best supplier," said Woodside.

That supplier was AuthenTec, which Apple purchased for $356 million. Apple eventually put AuthenTec's fingerprint technology to work by adding a reader to the iPhone 5s in 2013 and later to the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and iPad Air 2 in 2014. Even better, Apple released an API alongside iOS 8 so developers can access the fingerprint reader and incorporate it into their own apps.

Too bad no such API exists for Android devices. According to Woodside, it was working with Google and AuthenTec to create just such an API for the Android platform. The API would have allowed developers to access the fingerprint scanner. Further, it could have been used with Google Wallet for authenticating purchases on Android smartphones.

When Apple snapped up AuthenTec, it left everyone scrambling to find another supplier. "The second best supplier was the only one available to everyone else in the industry, and they weren't there yet," said Woodside, speaking of Synaptics. This is why there are so few fingerprint sensors in Android devices and why there's no API at the moment.

HTC offered a fingerprint scanner in the One Max in 2013, and Samsung added one to the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4 last year. Samsung eventually offered its own API to developers for accessing the fingerprint readers on Galaxy devices, but Samsung's API doesn't work with all Android devices.

Woodside implied that work on a fingerprint API for Android devices is ongoing, but provided no details on when it might arrive. It's not up to him anymore. Woodside left Motorola when Google sold it to Lenovo. Woodside works for Dropbox now. Google has so far remained mum on the subject of APIs for fingerprint readers on Android devices.

Eric Zeman I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for ProgrammableWeb and other online properties.

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