Apple's Touch ID: A game changer?

Moderated by Larry Dignan | September 16, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: Apple builds a fingerprint sensor into its flagship phone. Big deal? Our experts debate.

David Braue

David Braue




John Fontana

John Fontana

Best Argument: No


Audience Favored: No (59%)

Closing Statements

Trust Apple’s long-term vision

David Braue

The resistance to Touch ID seems mainly based around the idea that “it doesn’t do everything already, so it’s a useless toy”. Sure, its limited implementation makes it a bit gimmicky now, but even as a simple password replacement Touch ID is better than security techniques most people aren’t using.

John argues that that it’s irrelevant because it lacks developer support, but this is short-sighted and unimaginative. Apple never does anything without a  long-term plan, and I can guarantee it has not introduced a significant and prominent new sensor that will only function as an ineffectual toy.

It wasn’t too long ago, remember, that iOS didn’t even support multitasking. When Apple introduced that feature, it gave developers just a few multi-threaded service categories to prevent bad apps from compromising the user experience. The company knows there’s no point introducing a feature just to tick a box; poorly implemented, Touch ID could kill fingerprint biometrics’ potential forever.

That’s why Apple will steadily expand Touch ID’s relevance and capabilities by introducing the feature in the iPhone 5S, then expanding it to other devices and adding new developer hooks in iOS 7.1 and beyond. E-commerce, user authentication, gaming, whatever: give it a chance. Once users, businesses and developers get creative with Touch ID, today’s naysayers will be eating their words.

Apple lives on an island

John Fontana

Speculation is cheap and that’s all that defines Touch ID’s future.

Today, it is a walled-off pilot program to scope any future uses. To believe Apple can solve one of computing’s all-time vexing issues with a single stroke of genius is short-sighted and ignores proven weaknesses in biometric readers and data, including accuracy, reliability and privacy.

How you enter your identifier is not game-changing. We don’t need another reader, we need a next-generation identity infrastructure. Think about that the next time you change your hacked password on 30 different Web sites.

What will foster authentication’s evolution is how ID and access management is federated on the back-end, including how ID traverses security boundaries, how trust is established, how tokens are issued/revoked, how user attributes are collected, stored and verified. That takes an integrated and decentralized village.

Apple lives on an island. The iPhone is a client, an end-point, an input mechanism. iPhone 5S, an authentication factor in the future? Perhaps. A game-changer? No.

John for the win

Larry Dignan

Personally, I'm inclined to think Apple has found a way to popularize biometrics and fingerprint sensors, but I have to go with the argument. John simply had better arguments across the board. David put up a good battle, but the win goes to John. 


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  • Why the need to make a comment ...

    ... just to vote.
    I wasn't planning to , but as I have to, I don't see it as a game changer any more than when fingerprint recognition was installed on phones previously, as stated by John. I don't see it as any more of a game changer than face recognition on Android phones, which hasn't exactly set the world alight. Having said that, I'll be interested to see the arguments on either side.
    Reply 5 Votes I'm for No
    • The same, but different

      DJL64, it's true that 2 years ago the Motorola Atrix was the first mobile phone with a fingerprint reader, but the ease of use, accuracy, and other features of the Apple/AuthenTec scanner hardware and software on the iPhone 5S is a much more advanced system.

      Comparing the two is like saying Apple's iPhone was not the first smartphone (which is also true), but the iPhone completely changed what we now take for granted is a "smartphone".

      The same with the iPad. There were tablets around for years before (including Apple's early tablet, the Newton) but none of them hit the mark or became popular. But the iPad changed the landscape. Now, all other tablets are more like the iPad than the tablet efforts that preceded it.

      The fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5S is that much more advanced and different than the Motorola Atrix scanner.

      It is up to Apple whether they decide to license this new technology, or not, since Apple bought AuthenTec two years ago, and has developed this new scanner hardware and software over the past two years.

      If Apple doesn't license this new technology to its competitors, it will be up to other smartphone manufacturers to develop an equally high-quality system on their own.
      Harvey Lubin
      Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
      • One of the major differences

        In additional to ease of use, and accuracy, there is another important way in which Apple's fingerprint scanner is different and more advanced than other companies' previous attempts.

        Apple's scanner cannot be "tricked" into working with either a severed finger, or a lifted image of someone's fingerprint.

        This is because the sensor in the iPhone 5S utilizes two methods to sense and identify your fingerprint:

        Capacitive -- A capacitive sensor is activated by the slight electrical charge running through your skin. We all have a small amount of electrical current running through our bodies, and capacitive technology utilizes that to sense touch. This is also the same technology used in the iPhone's touchscreen to detect input.

        Radio frequency -- RF waves do not respond to the dead layer of skin on the outside of your finger -- the part that might be chapped or too dry to be read with much accuracy -- and instead reads only the living tissue underneath. This produces an extremely precise image of your print, and ensures that a severed finger is completely useless.
        Harvey Lubin
        Reply 6 Votes I'm Undecided
        • It will be cracked...

          it's just a matter of time. Everything is eventually.
          Reply 6 Votes I'm Undecided
          • Bust a Myth!

            You're safe as long as Adam Savage doesn't lift a copy of your fingerprint!
            Reply 6 Votes I'm Undecided
          • None of the Mythbuster tricks will work

            on TouchID. It reads the subdermal layer, checks for capacitance, takes a 3D map of the print, etc. In other words, it's a whole heck of a lot more advanced than your typical PC fingerprint reader. Which is why the "No" guy is just spouting his ignorance when he compares it to the Atrix
            Reply 5 Votes I'm Undecided
          • ' "No" guy is just spouting his ignorance'

            Are you referring to my earlier comment Baggy? Is that your best reasoned argument, to insult someone you disagree with.
            I expect this fingerprint reader to be quite useful, time will tell. I just don't think it will be a "game changer". No, that's not a fact, just an opinion.
            I didn't actually compare it to the technology in the Atrix either, I just said it wasn't the first fingerprint reader in a phone. Try reading Harvey' response. I don't agree with him (well maybe 50/50) but he does make quite reasoned points.
            Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
        • RF scanner detects moisture, actually

          so a dead finger would still work if it were kept moist. What did they do to test it, cut off someone's finger? But you're right about a lifted fingerprint.

          But nobody cares about that, as what are the chances someone would kill you or sever your finger just to get access to the iPhone they stole from you, especially when there are plenty of ways to get around the security if they actually possess the phone, including hard resets. And no, you can't remotely brick the phone if someone steals it from you, so the incentive to steal is still there.

          What would be a game changer would be if they built in the capability to brick the phone if it's stolen. There is only one brand of smart phone that has that capability built in, and that is BlackBerry. It would be the easiest thing in the world for Apple to build that capability into the iPhone as it has a unique device ID that survives hard reset, but they don't/won't do it.
          Jacob VanWagoner
          Reply 4 Votes I'm Undecided
          • Activation Lock - Bricking

            With IOS 7 activation lock you can remote wipe and brick the device, you need to enter the apple ID and password to be able to do anything with the phone.

            Recovery mode won't even bypass this. Same if you didn't wipe it and had an authentication of some kind to get past the lock screen.

            Incidentally, my employer announced today that Touch ID will be acceptable in favour of 6 digit pins
            Reply 4 Votes I'm Undecided
        • Big Enterprise Miss

          I have to go with gimmick ... The only way this could be even remotely aceptable in an enterprise environment would be as part of a two-part authentiication factor. It's ot and not likely to be. Big business has some very stringent guidelines on the use of biometrics. Most companies that have computers with fingerprint tech shut it off. No matter ow mch effort Apple ut into his, unless they are willing to open it up to allow inclusion in an authentification system designed by enterprise, not Apple, any traction it gains is minuscule, at best.
          Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided