Apple inks deal with fingerprint security startup Microlatch

Apple inks deal with fingerprint security startup Microlatch

Summary: Apple has signed a deal that may pave the way for fingerprint security in NFC payments, something the Cupertino giant left out of the latest iteration of the iPhone, reports an Australian newspaper.


Despite leaving out near-field communications (NFC) technology -- commonly used for close-proximity wireless payments -- out of the latest iPhone 5, an deal signed between Apple and an Australian startup could see the technology brought to the technology giant's future devices. 

Credit: Scott Stein/CNET

First reported by The Australian, the deal will see five-year old start-up Microlatch work with Apple, which will allow the technology giant to develop fingerprint technology for use in NFC applications.

Sydney, Australia-based Microlatch owns patents and technologies that meet banking security standards that allows fingerprints and biometrics to be processed on the device without the need for transmission or storage. Former banking chief and current Microlatch chief executive David Murray described the process as "self-registering," according to the newspaper.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, although ZDNet has put in questions to both Microlatch and Apple and will update if hear back.

Some were disappointed by Apple's unwillingness to include NFC in its latest smartphone. NFC, which is still in industry development and not yet in widespread use, was thought to have not been included in the iPhone 5 -- just as 4G LTE technology was left out of the iPhone 4S -- because the technology was still in its infancy.

But Apple, which tends to release a new phone every year, could be making a punt to include the wireless payments technology in the next iPhone, which will likely be released in 2013. 

Apple acquired fingerprint sensor maker AuthenTec in July for $356 million, leading to suggestions that the then-upcoming and expected iPhone 5 would include a fingerprint sensor for additional security. But the purchase sparked a reported "state of panic" among PC makers such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo, among others, after AuthenTec was said to be preparing to cut off existing PC-building customers.

According to Reuters, an Apple-filed regulatory filing hinted at the development of "a 2D fingerprint sensor for Apple that is suitable for use in an Apple product," but did not state whether this would be an iOS-powered mobile device, such as the iPhone or the iPad, or a Mac computer.

Putting the hardware purchase and part-software, part-patent agreement together almost certainly suggests that Apple is working on implementing fingerprint technology into one or more of its mobile products. 

Topics: Apple, iPhone, Security, Tech Industry, Australia

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Is it useful?

    Just wondering because up to this point we've been told by the applettes that it's not worth it, has no place and better can be achieved through apps.

    Just wondering when we're going to start hearing it's a very useful addition to a mobile device.
    Little Old Man
    • Without robust security measures, NFC tech poses risks to the consumer.

      Wouldn't you agree, Little Old Man?
      • I do agree kenosha

        and am happy that the current limit in the UK is only £15. However, the message from the apple massif has not, in general, been lets wait and see. When the ibrick5 came out, it was largely, it's not a necessary technology and will go nowhere. I myself have 'discussed' with someone about how no one really wants to stop carrying a wallet anyway so what's the point.
        Little Old Man
        • I have yet to read where anybody

          let alone a majority of Apple fans have stated it will go nowhere.
    • It's not worth it right now...

      Because as the article stated, it "is still in industry development and not yet in widespread use." Regardless of Samsung's commercials, I've never felt inadequate because I couldn't bump my 4S with someone else's phone and transfer a playlist. And, I've yet to see enough retailers adopting it to avoid having to carry my credit/debit cards or cash anywhere I go. So, as of right now, it's more potential than anything else.

      Regardless of all the carrier hype (and OEMs to an extent), 4G was still not very widespread if you ventured to far from cities a year or so ago. And, regardless of the hype, it still has quite a ways to go even now. Apple took the conservative approach given the hardware, licensing, battery hit and waited until it was widespread enough to be worthwhile. My guess is, they're doing the same with NFC.
      • Not the point made by the OP...

        ...which is that anything, no matter what, that Apple does not include into its existing products is 'worthless' or worse, up until Appple do it, at which point it becomes 'revolutionary' and 'essential' to the Apple advocates.
        • Exactly

          Case in point was the argument where someone of the apple persuasion argued there would be no benefit in being able to leave your wallet at home yet pay for fuel, tabs, a takeaway or in extreme circumstances, real food from the supermarket, all with your phone.

          It won't replace anything, just complement existing options and while security seems to extend to a the low spending limit, it's not much of an answer other than for the above minor purchases.

          I am genuinely interested to see how the hardcore itards will spin it if nfc comes to the next ibrick. Not the one's suggesting it will need the ibrick to get it to take off properly, fair play to them if it happens, I mean the real naysayers that termed it pointless and doomed to failure.
          Little Old Man
          • Probably unfair

            Apple didn't take credit for adding 4G LTE. It did wait to add it until it could handle the multiple radios in its small form factor and more importantly its battery was up to the job. It felt free to do that because 4G LTE was not yet widespread from any carrier.

            I don't infer that Apple thinks that NFC will always be worthless. Frankly right now-south of the 49th parallel-it is close to worthless. Very limited adoption. I can pay for the occasional coffee and clink phones with a neighbor. NOT game changing.

            Plus some are concerned about security just as they are with square. If Apple puts in a non-secure feature folks like you will gleefully jump all over them. Why assume such a risk for such little payoff?

            If NFC is truly ready for prime time Apple will adopt it. They won't crow that they invented it but neither will they apologize for having said that it was/always would be garbage. Who cares?

            A final thought: If they can integrate NFC with biometrics on mobile devices in their typical elegant way, then maybe they will have bragging rights.
          • I expect it will come to the next iPhone or maybe the one after that

            depending on how the tech developes over the next year. Your immature insults aside I presonally prefer that my vendor of choice not include tech that is not ready for prime time versus stuffing every possible feature into a device just to fill a spec sheet or talking point list. Is there benefit in NFC now for some in some areas, sure but for me with it's limited use here it's not anything I will miss at this point let alone be upset I don't have.
        • That might be how you wanted to interpret it

          but that's not what I read.
    • It's more than just paying for stuff.

      NFC is not just for payments but useful security based applications such as using it instead of security cards to enter/exit secure areas in buildings, carparks even using it instead of keys to enter your house or start your car.
      One day using NFC and fingerprint triggering would be the norm instead of scanning tickets to enter stadiums, cinemas and exhibitions.
      One day, you will hire a car at the airport over the internet at 5am because you need to drive 250km and get there by 8am. The hire ticket will end up in your phone. You walk to the nearest available car in that area that you selected when hiring, open the car park security doors with your NFC & fingerprint. You then unlock the nominated car with NFC, get in, start and drive.
      NFC and fingerprinting makes this sort of thing possible.
      • oh yeah

        you then swipe the phone over the NFC sensor on the hire car and it uses your profile setting for cars and sets the seat, mirrors, steering wheel, radio stations, climate control and it will work seemlessly with any car that is profile compatible.
      • Someday, someday, someday

        So in other words just like I have been saying Apple will included it when it's matured and is at least somewhat widely used.
    • Some may have said that but

      what I and many other have said is that the tech is not matured yet or widely used. Sure, others have NFC built in now and nothing wrong with that just like there is nothing wrong with waiting until it ready.
  • This does not really have much to do with NFC

    It is obvious from Apple's prior purchase that Apple is interested in fingerprint technology -- the kind that could not be fooled by just replicating fingerprint, as all usual technologies.

    So with this new deal *fingerprint* part of technology is actually that interests Apple.
  • The key application for users

    There’s a lot of talk about Apple missing the boat on the many promises of NFC, particularly when it comes to mobile payments. And, yes, eventually NFC will make it onto the iPhone. In the meantime, innovation is still happening when it comes to mobile retail transactions. Consumers are constantly looking for other ways their mobile phone can make their shopping experience more convenient and developers shouldn’t sit around and wait for NFC to make this happen. One area that’s evolving when it comes to retail transactions? The receipt. Whether your smartphone is NFC-enabled or not, you can now use a mobile app to get a digital receipt zapped directly to your phone. No more dealing with the hassle of paper receipts.

    Dinesh C.
  • NFC is primetime

    Despite what the author alludes to by suggesting NFC isn't in widespread use, it's heavily in use in Canada. There are nearly 25 million credit cards in Canada that have been issued with EMV and NFC contactless technology and well over 25,000 merchants with the PIN pads to support acceptance across all of the payment brands. While adoption in the US lags well behind that of Europe, Asia and Canada I wouldn't agree with the author's assertion that there isn't widespread use.

    Apple's consideration of NFC technology will be tablestakes, if it isn't already, if they're to be a meaningful and relevant player in the mobile payments arena.
    Kia Ora IV
    • NFC Is Unsafe at Any Speed

      Thank you for letting me know that NFC is in wide use in Canada. The next time I go there, I will bring the NFC reader I built for less than $50. All I need is to be within about 10 feet from any NFC reader to read the signal. Then, I can borrow a program a friend wrote that would program an Android Phone with NFC to replicate the signal and pay with someone else's card.

      NFC is NOT encrypted. It is alleged that since the signal is so low in power, it is not a risk. Balloney! I keep this little device in my pocket and have it read wireless signals all over the place, includng car keys.

      Go on Kia Ora IV... use your NFC while I use my home built reader to read your card!

      BTW: It is legal in the US and Canada to grab any over the air signal. It is illegal to use that signal for transmitting data without permission. However, the laws do not say I cannot read the information. As long as I do not use the information for anything other than research, there is nothing illegal about this type of sniffing. Using the data would be another story!
      • A bit of reading doesn't support that view

        While I fully accept there will be flaws, in the same way there is with chip and pin, most online reports suggest it is secure. Global standards and adoption by major financial players would add weight to that. The banking fraternity won't willingly increase the risk of fraud to themselves and possibly their customers. Yet they are introducing it as a viable payment option.
        One benefit cited across a number of reports is the security of the hardware. My nfc enabled chip and pin card would be easy to clone while my security locked phone would be (reportedly) impossible to read.
        Little Old Man
      • Dumb hacks

        if you can use an NFC phone to reproduce the NFC signal, then why do you need a $50 DIY device to read the NFC signal? The NFC phone needed to reproduce the signal should be able to read the NFC signal as well.
        I call BS on your story because it sounds stupid.