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.
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?