Major achievements of solution makers in 2019 include mature performance, affordable solutions, and improved module thickness.

Key findings

  • The FoD module ASP fell from $8 (the first quarter) to $5 (the third quarter) in 2019, which led to its take-off gro wth increasing from 30 million units (2018) to more than 200 million units (2019).
  • Some uncertainties will be clarified in 2020, especially LCD-based FoD solutions, TFT-based optical imaging solutions, and TFT LCD panel makers’ in-cell FoD solutions. These are factors that will influence future market trends.

Since 2019, FoD has been a critical biometric ID feature. Smartphone brands, including Samsung and the top four Chinese brands (Huawei, Xiaomi, Vivo, and Oppo), have been increasing their FoD adoptions. Major achievements in 2019 include an affordable module ASP and technical upgrades. However, solution makers’ sources and display feasibility (only applicable for AMOLED displays) limited the growth in 2019. Nevertheless, these two factors are anticipated to be eliminated in 2020.

FoD adoptions in the second half of 2019

Major smartphone brands, except Apple, have been increasing their FoD adoptions since the first quarter of 2019. As a result, there were more than 40 smartphone models equipped with FoD solutions. Thanks to the technical maturity and the FoD module ASP dropping from $8 (the first quarter) to $5 (the third quarter) in 2019, its take-off growth increased from 30 million units (2018) to more than 200 million units (2019). Additionally, tier-one smartphones received even better offers that were lower than $5 toward the end of 2019. After comparing it to 3D facial recognition, which has issues with its algorithm, module stability, and supply chain in the non-Apple camp, smartphone brands excluding Apple chose to adopt FoD instead of 3D facial recognition in 2019. Smartphone brands upgraded their biometric ID with cost-effective and stable FoD solutions rather than 3D facial recognition.

Samsung equipped its flagship with FoD solutions while some high-end models, like the Galaxy S10 and Note 10 series, adopted Qualcomm’s ultrasonic solution and some Galaxy A series models even adopted Egis’s CMOS image sensor (CIS)-based optical imaging solution. Goodix had nearly the most orders from Chinese tier-one smartphone brands. As a consequence of fewer FoD solution makers and more limited field-application engineer (FAE) resources, tier-two brands seldom adopted FoD solutions in 2019. These tier-two brands were lacking in FAE resource allocations from solution makers and thus reduced adoptions.

FoD supply chain issues

Display limitation continued to affect the adoptions as all available FoD solutions in 2019 were only applicable for AMOLED displays. Thus, AMOLED supply became the first critical path in applying FoD solutions. Although Fortsense proposed CIS optical imaging solutions for TFT LCD displays, it had yet to pass field verifications at the end of 2019. While CIS optical imaging solutions can be used in both rigid and flexible AMOLED displays, Qualcomm’s ultrasonic solution is only applicable for flexible AMOLED. The display feasibility, high module ASP ($12 in the first quarter), and US-China trade war limited Chinese smartphone brands’ adoptions of Qualcomm’s solution.

Although LG Display (LGD) and BOE were successfully verified in the third quarter of 2019 to supply Apple’s flexible AMOLED displays in 2020, both companies still lacked stable and sufficient mass production in 2019. The major smartphone brand that adopted the flexible AMOLED displays from LGD and BOE was Huawei. Samsung Display (SDC) was the only panel maker capable of sufficiently supplying rigid and flexible AMOLED displays in 2019. As for Visionox, EverDisplay, and Tianma, capacity and shipments were limited. Display quality was also a concern for smartphone brands when adopting their AMOLEDs in higher-end products.

As for solution makers, while Synaptics faded out from the display fingerprint market, Goodix dominated and continuously improved its FoD solutions such as the cost-effective optical lens and advanced microlens solutions. The thinner microlens solution was ramped up in the fourth quarter of 2019 and prepared for future 5G smartphones requiring bigger battery capacity. On the other hand, Silead suffered from a patent lawsuit (with Goodix) and performance issues. Besides that, Qualcomm and Egis benefited from Samsung’s aggressive adoptions. Samsung applied Egis’ CIS optical imaging FoD solution in the high-end and mid-range segments. For example, the Samsung Galaxy A30s with FoD was priced at only $299 or lower.

CIS optical imaging solutions accounted for more than 75% of the shipments in 2019, while the remaining share went to ultrasonic solutions. The optical lens type of CIS optical imaging replaced the pinhole type in the first quarter of 2018 and later became the most popular technology in 2019. Despite having a module thickness of more than 3.5 mm, the optical lens type was generally adopted since the second quarter of 2019 because of its affordability. The microlens type was proposed in the third quarter of 2019 to improve the module thickness to 0.5–0.6 mm. Qualcomm upgraded its ultrasonic solution, which it provided to Samsung, from 4×9 mm to 8×8 mm in December 2019.

Impact of the FoD market in 2020

Major achievements of solution makers in 2019 include mature performance, affordable solutions, and improved module thickness. The thicker optical lens type was cost-effective, which increased adoptions, while the thinner microlens type was preferred for 5G smartphones or high-end products. Despite being limited to flexible AMOLED displays, Qualcomm proved the advantages (module thickness and sensor area) for the high-end segment. As for the other TFT-based solution by OXi, the schedule for mass production has been postponed for more than half a year. A French company, Isorg, also demonstrated its TFT-based optical imaging solution at CES 2020. The difference from OXi’s is its use of organic photodiodes (OPD) instead of inorganic materials. If TFT-based solutions become mature, then a bigger sensor area will be the competition’s focus in 2020.

Some uncertainties will be clarified in 2020, especially LCD-based FoD solutions, TFT-based optical imaging solutions, and TFT LCD panel makers’ in-cell FoD solutions. These are factors that will influence future market trends. Positive long-term FoD market demands can certainly be expected but growth will depend on these factors which will also change the competition scope in the supply chain. The most influential factor is expected to be LCD-based FoD solutions. If they are available, the FoD market will not be limited to the AMOLED display supply and will achieve higher growth.

Besides FoD, 3D facial recognition is also popular. To date, Apple has not decided to adopt FoD yet. Although Apple has applied some FoD patents including ultrasonic and optical imaging principles, it will not adopt the FoD feature in its 2020 iPhone models; instead, face ID will be retained. Additionally, Google does not use FoD in its Pixel 4 series either. Compared to Chinese smartphone brands, a thicker top-display bezel is acceptable to Apple and Google such that 3D facial recognition and some optical features on the bezel (such as radar-based gesture sensing) are more preferred than FoD. Besides facial recognition, the technology is versatile and can be used for augmented reality (AR) applications. Moreover, the semiconductor package can further reduce the thickness.

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