Synaptics may be a high-end IoT company, but it still produces solid fingerprint readers for laptops and Chromebooks.
As I have followed and written about Synaptics over the past few years, I have witnessed a fascinating and transitional time for the company. I’ve seen Synaptics turn around its finances under the leadership of its new adept CEO, Michael Hurlston, and take a hard look at its IoT efforts. So much so that I think it’s more appropriate these days to call Synaptics an “IoT” company. However, I put a lot of emphasis on this point, it’s important to remember that Synaptics got its start as a manufacturer of trackpads and fingerprint readers, an area where it still excels and claims leadership to this day. . Today I wanted to talk about this part of Synaptics’ business, as I recently devoted a lot of time to the significant expansion of Synaptics in IoT. Let’s dive into the latest announcements from the company that initially put Synaptics on the map.
Lenovo opts for the oval
One of the latest victories in this area for Synaptics was Lenovo’s selection of Synaptics’ Selene family of super-thin oval-shaped fingerprint sensors for its upcoming ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 laptop. The latest ThinkPad Carbon Generation will take advantage of Selene for its Power-on Touch Fingerprint Reader, which allows users to securely log in and turn on the laptop with a single touch.
As a technical analyst, I have spent time with many Lenovo devices, and I attest that when it comes to device security, Lenovo is not kidding. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon, in particular, has a reputation for being one of the most secure laptops available. The fact that Lenovo chose Selene is, in itself, a testament to the security of Synaptics’ biometric authentication technology, which is both Microsoft Secure Bio compliant and FIDO certified.
Selene benefits from Synaptics’ fully hardware-encapsulated Match-in-Sensor technology for fingerprint authentication. This technology allows a single device to perform both input and output functions through a microprocessor built into the sensor running firmware. According to Synaptics, this gives the sensor an extra layer of security since everything – fingerprint image registration, template storage, and biometric matching – is isolated from the host operating system.
The last thing I’ll see in this news is that Selene is a prime example of Synaptics’ clean, industrial and streamlined design. Selene’s slim profile is likely appealing to Lenovo and other OEMs, as it allows them to continue downsizing their devices while maximizing their precious real estate. While the Carbon X1 features Selene above the keyboard, Synaptics says OEMs can install it on the outer edge of laptops as well if they choose. As Lenovo points out, this could be handy for docking situations, as users wouldn’t need to open the laptop to authenticate. All of this to say that Synaptics designs its solutions to be easily integrated into the designs of different laptop manufacturers without being intrusive, annoying or garish. It’s a strategy that is paying off, judging by Synaptics’ long reign as a leading supplier of fingerprint sensors in the laptop market.
Getting in touch with the Chromebook market
Another PC-related announcement came in early February when Synaptics revealed its entry into the world of Google’s hugely popular Chromebooks. The company’s new TouchPad S9861 modules are now fully qualified by Google and have earned a spot on its list of approved vendors for Chromebooks. Synaptics describes the new TouchPad modules as “the best-in-class options for OEMs looking to build next-generation differentiated Chromebooks, for users who want the best quality, productivity and experience.”
Affordable, high-quality laptops have only grown in popularity since the start of the pandemic, with more people than ever working, schooling and socializing from the security of their rooms via Zoom and other video conferencing solutions. Saleel Awsare of Synaptics, senior vice president and general manager of the company’s PC and peripherals division, described the radical change as the shift from “one PC per household to one PC per person.” As a result, the demand for laptops at all levels has accelerated dramatically. Google reportedly shipped 11.2 million Chromebook units in Q4 2020, up 287% from Q4 2019.
While some are slowly returning to the physical office and schools, I think the experience of working from home has been successful enough to stick around indefinitely in one way or another. These were trends that were already happening; the pandemic only accelerates them. PCs, like the two we reviewed today, will continue to be in high demand. With its fairly undisputed leadership position in touchpads and fingerprint sensors, Synaptics stands to benefit significantly from this societal shift.
Along with this trend come the new cyber threats and security challenges that have arisen from so many work devices leaving the (relatively) secure boundaries of the private office network. Data security and privacy are always critical factors to keep in mind when designing products, but perhaps even more so for laptops like Chromebooks and ThinkPads released for productivity on the go. Synaptics sensors, like Selene, enable the effortless, highly secure biometric authentication that business and other markets demand today. The company’s clean industrial designs are just the icing on the cake.
The future looks bright for Synaptics right now. Yes, it is now possible to call it an IoT company. We certainly shouldn’t call it just a trackpad company anymore. No matter what box you put Synaptics in, it’s still a force to be reckoned with in laptop biometric interfaces. And given the current trends in work and in society, I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.
Note: The editors and editors of Moor Insights & Strategy may have contributed to this article.
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