Most Android phones will have to wait until 2019 to duplicate the 3D sensing feature behind Apple's Face ID security, three major parts producers have told Reuters, handicapping Samsung and others on a technology that is set to be worth billions in revenue over the next few years.
The development of new features for the estimated 1.5 billion smart phones shipped annually has been at the heart of the battle for global market share over the past decade, with Apple, bolstered by its huge R&D budget, often leading.
When the iPhone 5S launched with a fingerprint-sensing home button in September 2013, for example, it took its biggest rival Samsung until just April of the next year to deliver its own in the Galaxy S5, with others following soon after.
The 3D sensing technology is expected to enhance the next generation of phones, enabling accurate facial recognition as well as secure biometrics for payments, gesture sensing, and immersive shopping and gaming experiences.
Tech research house Gartner predicts that by 2021, 40 percent of smartphones will be equipped with 3D cameras, which can also be used for so-called augmented reality, or AR, in which digital objects cling tightly to images of the real world.
"This kind of functionality is going to be very important for AR," said Gartner analyst Jon Erensen. "I think that is something where you don't want to get left behind."
According to parts manufacturers Viavi Solutions Inc, Finisar Corp and Ams AG, bottlenecks on key parts will mean mass adoption of 3D sensing will not happen until next year, disappointing earlier expectations.
That means that China's Huawei, Xiaomi and others could be a total of almost two years behind Apple, which launched Face ID with its iPhone X anniversary phone last September.
In particular, Android producers are struggling to source vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers, or VCSELs, a core part of Apple's Face ID hardware.
"It is going to take them a lot of time, the Android-based customers, to secure capacity throughout the whole supply chain," said Bill Ong, senior director of investor relations from Viavi, seen as the only major supplier of optical filters needed for the 3D sensing modules.
"We may have a potential introduction of a second handset maker into 3D sensing at the end of this calendar year. (But) the volumes would be very low. In 2019 you clearly will see at least two or more android-based phones," he added.
Ong declined to name the company that might launch an Android phone with 3D face recognition this year but said that Viavi was in talks with all the major smart phone makers to supply the filters.