Congratulations HTC. You’ve outdone Apple. Champagne is falling from the skies in your honor. No one thought it was possible, but I believed in you. Once the rumors broke, I knew you wouldn’t let me down, and you did not. Kudos. You showed Apple how it’s done. You managed to screw up fingerprint sensor implementation even more than Cupertino. You know what we call that? We call that a “Boomsound”.
When Apple first debuted Touch ID, it seemed (and still seems to me) a foolhardy concept. The world is just not ready to have our phones storing our fingerprints, nor waiting for a phone to read our prints, Jorga Fox style just so you can tweet about the Beib.
Location, location, location
But at least Apple got the placement right. Replacing the home button with a home button/fingerprint reader was about the only genius thing about Touch ID. Apple is giving the fingerprint sensor the absolute best chance to succeed by placing it in a place that makes sense. What I mean is, it put the fingerprint sensor in a place where you….how can I put this? Um…in a place where you actually put your fingers.
Now enter the HTC One max with it’s fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, just below the camera. We saw this in rumored specifications building up to final release. In fact I think the only difference between the leaked specs and the actual production images is a black-colored glass coating of the fingerprint sensor, which is infuriating for a whole new reason. We’ll talk about that later.
This is not the time
But placing a fingerprint sensor on the back of the device in the first place just does not make sense. Fingers just don’t go there. I mean, they do, but not in any kind of useful way. Why? Well, because you can’t see them back there. There’s kind of a phone in the way. So while you’re blindly pawing around the back of the phone looking for a sensor to unlock your phone, you’re actually transferring pretty, greasy fingerprints to your camera which should do wonders for your already garbage ultra-pixel driven photos.
My colleagues here have all talked about finger placement on the back of the phone and when it makes sense. This is not one of them. It is true that fingers do tend to migrate to that particular spot on the phone – during phone calls. This is why features like the Moto X’s dimple and the LG G2′s volume rocker make perfect sense. Like the fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5S, those both represent genius placement. Now, the only way the HTC One max could be even more boneheaded would be to put the volume rocker at the bottom, middle portion of the front of the phone (home button area).
Going the distance
But moving beyond that, looking at the renders, HTC has descended to a circle of Clueless Hell that even Dante couldn’t write an epic poem about. HTC covered the fingerprint sensor in some type of glass/smooth plastic that will likely feel just like a camera lens cover. Now granted, no one has reviewed this device yet. There isn’t any official hands on time just yet. It may be possible that there’s something very distinctive about that square plastic, beyond the fact that it’s square as opposed to circular (like the camera lens). But by the time you feel it, it’s already too late and it’s smudge city on your four ultra-not-mega-pixel camera.
The Android factor
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in Android’s ability to successfully utilize a fingerprint sensor far more strongly than I believe in Apple’s ability. Apple got the placement right on, and good for them, but I suspect that Touch ID will fall into the same situation as sharing options on Apple, which is to say the same”our way or the highway” philosophy that dominates Apple culture.
I believe Android could actually make fingerprint sensing useful in unlocking any number of apps, storing login credentials (what could possibly go wrong with that?), or even activating certain features with the touch of afinger. The sky will be the limit, but only if the placement doesn’t suck. Which now, thanks to HTC, it does.
An A for effort
I’m willing to give HTC credit for trying something, even if it is something that any pack of five year olds could have told them was a bad idea. And there’s still the fact that in my opinion, fingerprint sensing is still not there yet enough to be a good idea. Maybe various OEM’s adopting this technology will push it forward, and I truly hope that’s the case. I guess someone has to be the first to jump into the water. But they don’t have to belly flop as badly, or as stupidly as HTC just did. Even Ironman can’t help you with this one.