Apple event: Touch ID, we hardly knew ye

Apple event: Touch ID, we hardly knew ye

Summary: The lack of Touch ID fingerprint scanning in Apple's latest products suggests that hackers have shaken Apple’s confidence in the technology. Will this be the death knell for mobile biometrics – and leave the iPhone 5s as an identity-protection anomaly?


Of all the surprises and – mostly – non-surprises in Apple’s latest launch, the biggest is the lack of new Touch ID fingerprint sensors in any of the new products announced.

I, for one, had been quietly confident we would see Touch ID rolled out across both iPad and MacBook ranges, completing the trifecta that would have put fingerprint scanning into its three major mobile product lines.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but is Touch ID dead in the water? Image: Apple

This would have made sense both from a usability perspective – delivering a consistent level of security protection across the devices – and as a complement to the new iCloud Keychain password-storage functionality, which would benefit from requiring a fingerprint scan as, or in addition to, a conventional master password.

Addition of fingerprint scanning to its MacBooks, which only got point upgrades, would have seemed to be a no-brainer: replace the power button with a fingerprint-scanning button, as it did with the iPhone 5s home button, and Apple would have provided a valuable new input device for its laptops without changing their much-vaunted look and feel.

That Apple has now decided to go a whole year without adding these features, suggests that the iPhone 5s was less a bold new direction for the company’s mobile devices than it was a tentative technological experiment – and one which, apparently, has failed miserably.

Why, after all, would you spend $US356 million to buy fingerprint scanning technology, fete it as the next best thing, then simply ignore it in the runup to what has traditionally been your biggest quarter? It’s like dropping a few hundred grand on a new Ferrari and keeping it in the garage.

It appears the German hackers that developed a way to work around the sensor’s capabilities have shaken Apple’s confidence in its technology – and in the security game, that is the kiss of death.

The longer-term question, however, is whether Apple can recover that confidence and turn Touch ID into something more than the gimmick that so many people believe it is (witness the majority of ZDNet readers that voted as such in our recent debate on the topic).

There are probably a half-dozen increasingly smelly engineers locked in a room somewhere in Apple HQ, being fed sandwiches and energy drinks through a chute until they can figure out how to get the technology to work as it was supposed to in the first place.

Knowing Apple’s obsession with doing things properly, I imagine there are probably a half-dozen increasingly smelly engineers locked in a room somewhere in Apple HQ, being fed sandwiches and energy drinks through a chute until they can figure out how to get the technology to work as it was supposed to in the first place.

Given that there will be only one Apple-branded device with fingerprint scanning on the market this Christmas, Apple has not only delayed the maturation of Touch ID by a year but has set the concept back significantly.

If it ever does add fingerprint scanning to its other mobile products, it will be a follower and not a leader. Samsung and Microsoft/Nokia have considerable leeway to best Apple’s efforts, although if Touch ID truly has been tainted as a compromisable failure those companies may well decide to rest on their laurels for now when it comes to biometrics.

I still believe this technology has great promise and value: even if it doesn’t singlehandedly replace passwords, it’s a significant time-saver for someone who, as I do, types their PIN dozens of times per day. But with Apple now on the back foot regarding the technology, the damage may have already been done: there will be no third chances for Touch ID to work properly, and Apple may even struggle to get a second.

What do you think? Why did Apple leave out Touch ID from its new products? And, can it recover from whatever damage the technology’s reputation has suffered?


Topics: Apple, iPhone, iPad, Mobile OS, Mobility, Samsung, Security, Smartphones, Bring Your Own Device


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • um, no product decisions are made months in advance

    This does point to a lack of confidence in the product/technology though. End of the password indeed, couldn't even do it across devices running the same OS in a tightly controlled proprietary platform. What's Apples message now to enterprises?
    • Agree, David is good guy, but he is incredibly naive about this stuff

      Apple finalizes design of products HALF YEAR before the appear on the shelves.

      TouchID presense of lack thereof is marketing and/or manufacturing decision (500 dpi sensor might be hard to manufacture if you have equipment for, say, only 30 million sensors per quarter as maximum, while addition to iPads would add another 20 million that you can not manufacture).
  • Apple's history

    Suggests otherwise. It does not "cut bait and run" at the first sign of trouble and I highly doubt it could have fully analyzed the decision, made the decision, and revised an entire product pipeline in, what, 30 days?!
  • It's not a guarantee of abandonment.

    Apple have a tendency to do things in patches and without consistency.

    The clearest indication of this was with retina displays, they came in spits and splurts, with the iPad Mini only just getting it despite them being on the smaller iPhones & iPods and larger iPads for quite a long time.

    Features in all OS's and software seem incomplete, things you'd think were obvious as a complimentary feature are often completely missing until a year or two down the line.

    It's the same with the fingerprint scanner. Just because one product has it, doesn't mean all automatically will from that point on. Logical progression doesn't come as you'd expect, but rather you'll get the rollout of it spread out throughout the next few years.
    • Logical progression

      so your saying logical progression for Apple is illogical by nature.
      • Sounds logical to me

        It just seemed to me that this needed to be a full-frontal assault by Apple in order to normalise the idea of biometrics. Having it as some sort of high-end luxury item, as it has been for years, isn't going to get people using it – or facilitate the kind of e-payments ecosystem Apple ultimately wants to build.
        • Wrong

          Apple has always considered the iPhone their premium product and has always incorporated new technologies first in the iPhone and then on other devices.

          Plus, biometrics makes more sense on a small device such as mobile phone, than on larger device. Not saying it will not be useful on the iPad too.

          Also, Apple are well known to set up bait for their competitors to do market and technology testing for them. We are likely to see many non-Apple slates debut with fingerprint technologies of all sorts next year. Then, Apple will make it better.

          Anyway, there is absolutely no chance Apple changed their mind between announcing the iPhone and announcing the iPad.
  • ...disengaged.

    I don't know if this article is right in an era of software.
    Software is the reason why Apple did not make Touch ID on other devices.
    You will always have your iPhone with you.
    It's much cheaper to implement software to use the Touch ID on the iPhone for Mac authentications.
  • Supply chain and less than perfect user adoption

    Reason 1: supply chain. You certainly dont want to create a bottleneck in the form of scarce component.

    Reason 2: I think Apple should already be seeing less than perfect user adoption. I have seen people abandoning this stuff and leaving setup assistant without any finger enrolled. Lets face it, TouchID setup process is not up to the standards set by Apple. If something goes wrong, the only cure is restarting iPhone ( which is both against usability guidelines and not actually indicated in UI), finger placement and scanning indicators in UI are way off etc.

    If you add these two together and weight them against benefits - it aint no password replacer (actually even itunes and appstore still use password behind the screen) just the local device protector - you easily start understanding why they did not mess with the rest of the line.
    • AigarsJ...need to do more reading you know what you're talking about? If your finger doesn't work, then just slide screen to the right and you get your password entry. You do NOT have to restart anything!

      App store purchases are done with fingerprint or password. I use fingerprint. The confusion is that some people use "IMMEDIATELY" for requiring password for purchases. When they select this, you cannot use fingerprint. BUT, if you select 15 min, then you can use fingerprint to buy stuff on App Store. ALL IN APPLE WEBSITE.
  • Do we think elves manufacture these products?

    This would be a logical question to ask next year if it didn't show up in any other products. It makes no sense whatsoever now. It makes no business sense. It makes no manufacturing sense. Think about this for a moment. The iPhone 5S with Touch ID was announced barely more than a month ago. It's been in consumers hands for even less time.

    1. Not even the most incompetent company out there would judge a feature a failure within a month of product release. Even a product or feature with significant shortcomings isn't going to be given up on so soon. Need proof? Think about the Maps app.

    2. It would be impossible to redesign/build the products to remove Touch ID if in fact it was planned for them but subsequently retracted due to any iPhone 5S/Touch ID analysis. Elves do not build these devices. There is no magic involved. Factories must be tooled, parts ordered and delivered, workers trained, etc. There is a significant amount of planning and operations that go into a new device like an iPad. The logistics are enormous. These iPads began being assembled before Touch ID ever landed in anyone's hands. There are already hundred of thousands probably somewhere in the distribution channel right now. The only logical conclusion you can make is that Apple had no plans to release Touch ID on any other device than the iPhone 5S this year.

    As BastardSheep says above, Apple releases new technologies slowly. This is there business strategy. This is how they get people to upgrade. Product roadmaps are about incremental improvements over time. They gave a lot of people just enough reason to buy new iPads today. Next year they'll add Touch ID and a few other bells and whistles and give just enough people another reason to upgrade.
  • This is simple

    How are Apple going to get retina mini and ipad air buyers to upgrade?........add touch id. They did a similar thing just now.....they got low res ipad mini owners lusting after the retina mini when it should have been retina in the first place.
    • Agreed

      Next year will get the touch ID so people have a "reason" to upgrade. Then the people who say things like "touch ID isn't right for tablets" will be talking about how great touch ID is for tablets.

      It has worked so far, so there is no reason for Apple to change. If it ain't broke, don't fix it I guess.
  • Will this be the death knell for David Braue?

    "The lack of Touch ID fingerprint scanning in Apple's latest products suggests that hackers have shaken Apple’s confidence in the technology. Will this be the death knell for mobile biometrics?"

    Can't believe an editor let this ignorant fiction find it's way into a tech publication.

    Some simple facts about Apple to consider:

    iPhones First - their most profitable product always gets new features first, often six months or a year before other products.

    Design & factory prep lead times - Apple (and every other tech manufacturer) decides exactly what to build months before product release. There's no way that they could have re-designed or re-tooled in less than a month. This is especially true when producing millions of devices for world-wide launch.

    Reductio Ad Absurdum - "The lack of gold colors in Apple's latest products suggests that hackers have shaken Apple’s confidence in new designs. Will this be the death knell for Kardashian Gold Apple products?"

    Truth: They never imagined how many little girls would want a gold iPhone 5s. My daughter could only get a silver one, and while she loves it, she still wishes it was gold.

    Coming next year: iPads with Touch ID in Gold.

  • David Braue

    Did MacWorld fire you for being ignorant? Seriously, this is what you came up with?! A month after 5S is release and you come to this conclusion that Apple abandoned TouchID because of a hack? Is this a grown man thinking or a 5 year old?

    ZDnet...geez, there is a reason you guys are not very high on Google search engine! What a moronic article.
    • How about these other techs?

      Do we think Face Unlock better? No, foolish feature on Android that barely works...and requires perfect lighting.

      Pattern unlock? Hmmm, also extremely easy to crack...just look at the smudges on the display. PROVEN to be a horrid security measure.

      Password? Couldn't anyone look over your shoulder or from the side to see your passcode? How easy is that?!

      Some idiots would argue that you can't change your fingerprint...i guess you can't change your ugly mug either for face unlock!

      READ this article:

      Nevermind that it comes from Appleinsider. BUT, read the content of it. THERE is a reason why Apple went with Authentec's new TouchID vs. Moto Atrix. Apple's solution is far more accurate and reliable...something that previous readers could not do.

      TouchID is a great solution in getting into my phone quickly and reliably...along with purchasing apps. Unlike the above "security features," it ain't that hard for the average Joe to break into.
      • No matter what you say

        Android community will not agree... they think Apple does zero innovation and Google/Samsung are the most innovative companies in the world.

        But the fact remains same... Google shows desperation to show Ads and Apple shows some pride in their products.
        Prasad Velkuri
  • Strange conclusions

    David, are you sure , that such the giant like Apple really cares about a hacking method invented by one person and that this particulary person alone is able to change Apple's mind? I presume, you realize that Apple didn't start to produce its iPads a week before it was unveiled and that decision of TouchID lack in new Macs and iPads was accepted at least several months before that guy has discovered how to hack the TouchID. As for adding TouchID to the new Macs... Well, the era of notebook computers with fingerprint scanner is almost over,isn't it?
    Maria Davidenko