A few decades ago, if you wanted to leverage biometrics for your identification, authentication, or access control needs, there were only a few options to choose from. Fingerprint scanners dominated the market and biometric technology more or less meant “fingerprint recognition technology”. If you wanted to deploy biometrics back then, you’d probably end up deploying a fingerprint scanner.
Today, if you choose to pick biometrics to address your identification, authentication, or access control requirements, there are a number of technologies and devices. Face recognition, fingerprint recognition, palm print scanners, and whatnot. Even today’s personal electronic devices such as phones and notebook / ultraportable computers pack multiple biometric modalities.
So, have these newer biometric modalities shaken the market share of fingerprint scanners? To some extent, they certainly have as they have provided consumers with many options to choose from. However, fingerprint scanning technology has neither lost its relevance nor its popularity even when there are many other biometric modalities in the market.
How fingerprint scanners have survived amid the rise of other modalities and why fingerprint scanners are still the most popular biometric devices? Let’s find out.
Fingerprint scanners still lead in availability
Fingerprint recognition is the oldest biometric modality, so it naturally had a head start in the field of biometrics. By the time other biometric modalities started to catch up, fingerprint recognition had already secured its place. Law enforcement and forensics were some of the first agencies to use this technology successfully.
Use of fingerprint recognition technology by important government agencies induced innovation and involved the top technology experts. Funding for research and development was never a problem since the government agencies were using it. It expedited the innovation and fingerprint scanners soon became widely available personal electronic devices.
Even today, fingerprint scanners enjoy widespread availability across the globe, which other biometric modalities are yet to attain. Popularity and demand of fingerprint scanners have also attracted more and more firms to manufacture these devices. Intense competition has also pushed fingerprint scanner manufacturers to offer cost effective devices, which in turn attracts more customers and the cycle goes on.
All this has resulted in the widespread availability of fingerprint scanners. There are well-established brands as well as new entrants that you have never heard of. You can order fingerprint scanners online or grab them from your nearest brick and mortar store. Your favorite store may not have other biometric devices such as iris or facial scanners, but it is highly probable that you will get a good range of fingerprint scanners there.
Fingerprint scanners: a cost-effective biometric solution
Can cost play a role in making something popular?
Yes, the cost can be a crucial factor in determining the success of a product or technology in the market.
Though the cost can never be the criteria to judge a biometric modality when it comes to security and efficiency, nevertheless, price of a biometric scanner does make a difference. If you simply want the best and can pay whatever it takes, there is no problem. However, that is not a practical approach in most situations. Even in high-security facilities and government outfits, budget is always a major aspect. No wonder the government agencies award the contracts to the lowest bidder.
The popularity of fingerprint scanners has pushed manufacturers to produce them in high volumes. Mass production and economy of scale have helped manufacturers to lower costs since they can make a profit by selling more devices than by keeping them expensive.
Fingerprint scanners are not only cheaper than most other biometric modalities but also provide the best return on investment.
Government initiatives for biometrics
The good news is that many governments across the world have acknowledged the issues with printed IDs and are now looking at biometrics to establish a robust identity for their citizens. With governments changing their stance about identification and authentication people are getting more familiar with the technology.
However, it has inherent security loopholes such as fake or manipulated IDs, unavailability of infrastructure to verify their validity, and of course, the need of carrying them. Losing your ID means losing the tool for authenticating your identity, this can result in a lot of trouble for its owner.
Traditionally, government agencies are known for issuing printed IDs, which they expect people to carry in order to address their identification or identity authentication requirements. This method has served us for a very long time and is still a primary method of identity authentication in many places in the world.
In the last couple of decades, many countries have taken up the idea of biometric identity for their citizens and residents. Biometrics for border control and air travel biometrics has also increased its popularity.
Mobile phones with biometric capabilities are taking part in a wide variety of services through apps, which are going to take the center stage in future e-governance applications.
Large-scale biometric collection campaigns, the use of biometrics in civil identity applications, and allowing the use of biometrics to access government services are some of the major initiatives taken by the governments. These government initiatives have helped biometrics attain more market share as well as improve its social acceptability.
Governments around the world are increasingly taking up biometrics for establishing the identity of their citizens and authenticate it with biometrics when needed. There are several countries, including developing and under-developed economies that are running large-scale campaigns for biometric identity.
Changing consumer attitude towards fingerprint scanning technology
A couple of decades ago, fingerprint recognition suffered serious social unacceptability as it carried the stigma of being a criminal identification method. Fingerprint recognition was not only the first biometric modality used for this purpose; it still maintains its relationship with forensics and law enforcement. Fingerprint capture used to be something that you would only come across when there is a criminal booking or involvement in a criminal investigation.
However, after early reluctance, fingerprint recognition was gradually accepted by the people for civil identification purposes such as biometric voter identification, border control, citizenship cards, biometric smartcards, etc.
Government initiatives helped fingerprint scanning eliminate its social unacceptability to some degree, however, the real breakthrough came with the rise of mobile biometrics. Smartphones with fingerprint scanners became a norm after the launch of the first Apple iPhone with a fingerprint sensor, which changed the way people unlocked their phones and authenticated their identity on apps. Mobile phones have helped with changing consumer attitudes toward fingerprint scanning technology.
The University of Texas, Center for Identity conducted a study on “Consumer Attitude about Biometric Authentication”. The study found that in all biometric types included in the study, fingerprint came out to be the modality that most participants were comfortable with. As much as 58 percent of participants said they were “very comfortable” giving their fingerprints in a biometric form and 28 percent of participants said they were “somewhat comfortable”. That is not all, the study also concluded that:
“67% of participants ranked fingerprint as the most comfortable, while 35% ranked facial recognition as the least. This could be influenced by the ubiquity of fingerprint biometric technology in smartphones or other devices, as well as negative media coverage relating to the use of facial recognition software for tracking and surveillance purposes.”
This study shows the changing consumer attitude towards fingerprint recognition, which also explains why fingerprint scanners are still the most popular biometric devices.
Fingerprint scanners give you freedom of choice
It is not only the choice of sensing technology that you have when picking a fingerprint scanner for your applications. There are different types of scanners that give you more freedom of choice.
Fingerprint scanning technology gives you greater freedom of choice as you can pick the sensing technology that suits your use case the best. That is not all, you can choose a static fingerprint scanner, which requires you to rest your finger on the sensing surface, or a fingerprint scanner with swipe-type sensing, in which your fingerprint is scanned by swiping across the sensor strip. Swipe-type scanners often use thermal scanning to read your fingerprint.
Each sensing method comes with its own set of pros and cons, for example, if you choose an optical sensor, it will be cost-effective, but prone to circumvention with spoofing attacks. Capacitive fingerprint scanners are claimed to be more secure than optical scanners, however, they can be more sensitive to finger skin conditions such as contaminants or wetness. Ultrasonic fingerprint sensors, on the other hand, are not only securer than optical and capacitive sensor types, but also stay unaffected by finger contaminants.
Unlike optical sensors, which capture your fingerprints with a digital camera with total internal reflection using a prism, capacitive fingerprint sensors do the job using a series of tiny capacitor circuits to read your fingerprint. On the other hand, ultrasonic fingerprint sensors, which are considered to be more advanced than optical and capacitive types, read your fingerprint with ultrasonic sound waves.
Fingerprint scanners read fingerprints and in order to accomplish that, they have to leverage a sensing technology. Fingerprint scanners give users the freedom to choose a scanner with the sensing method of their choice. The earliest and still very common sensing method is optical sensing, which is used in a wide variety of fingerprint scanners. There are many more fingerprint sensing technologies, however, capacitive and ultrasonic sensing is the other commonly found sensing technologies across fingerprint scanners.
Standalone fingerprint scanners
OEM biometric modules or embedded modules are ready-to-use fingerprint scanners for different product manufacturers to use without designing and developing them from the scratch. For example, if you want to manufacture a next-generation vehicle with fingerprint security, you can keep your focus on the core functionality and design of the vehicle without investing time and money in developing a fingerprint sensor for it. OEM modules are a great way to build a product without investing in many aspects of it.
Fingerprint-based time and attendance systems are a good example of standalone systems that use fingerprint scanners to achieve their objective. They are pre-programmed to capture the time and attendance data of individuals associated with their fingerprints. They are generally available as standalone devices, which can capture and process fingerprints based attendance data without the help of any external system. However, organizations may require external devices to import the attendance data and process it further, e.g. to generate payroll, calculate leaves, etc.
Standalone fingerprint scanners also come equipped with software code required for capturing, processing, and storing biometric data. They do not need external computing power to operate. On the other hand, devices such as fingerprint OEM modules, USB fingerprint scanners, etc. require an external device to scan and process biometric data.
Standalone fingerprint scanners come equipped with dedicated hardware and software to perform a specific task (e.g. fingerprint time &attendance systems). These self-reliant fingerprint scanners pack everything it takes to acquire, store, and process fingerprints. They come with inbuilt memory, processing power, and memory to process and store fingerprint templates.
On the basis of processing power: you can pick fingerprint scanners just to read your fingerprints and process them on an external device (such as a smartphone/PC with a compatible app to process fingerprints) or you can pick one with the ability to read as well as process and store your fingerprints.
Despite the rise of many biometric technologies and devices, fingerprint scanners have been able to maintain their relevance due to several advantages they offer. Not only that, they are now more popular than ever. As the University of Texas, Center for Identity study concludes that people are more comfortable with fingerprints than any other modality; fingerprint scanners’ popularity is set to increase.
Starting with the fingerprint tech as the only representative, biometrics now sports several modalities, including many conventional biometrics that are still in the experimental stage. Behavioral biometrics further extends this list and includes minute behavioral patterns such as typing and even using a touch-screen device, which can be used to identify you uniquely.
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