Rumors that Apple will include support for recognizing fingerprints, or biometrics, have seemingly been confirmed by code uncovered in a beta release of iOS7.
9to5 Mac posted an article today that included a snippet of code from the unreleased mobile operating system, which powers the Apple TV, iPads, iPhones, and a potential smart watch that Apple watchers speculate is currently under development. The code describes a tutorial for a setup process where iPhone users have their thumbs scanned by a sensor that's built into the device's home button.
Biometrics has several applications that would be useful for iPhone users. The simplest function would be replacing system passwords for unlocking the device or accessing websites using iOS's built-in Safari browser. Other uses could include mobile payments, but my guess is that those could be limited to purchases in Apple's iTunes store. There are unresolved technical issues around mobile payments, and a question of whether it would be a better solution than "contactless" credit cards. Apple's execs have also panned the idea.
No longer having to type in a password to unlock the phone would improve the user experience. It would also enable fast user switching on other iOS devices or even Mac OS X itself (Apple could build fingerprint recognition into its trackpads). Biometrics is nothing new in personal computers; use cases have been limited to the enterprise. Breaking into the consumer market is new territory and can be tricky.
It's been tried before. Windows XP launched with executives from Digital Persona onstage with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates back in 2001. I was there and met with the Digital Persona team and saw the potential, but Microsoft's warm embrace of biometrics in Windows was fleeting (it can be very difficult to get prints from some people depending upon their occupation, gender or even ethnicity).
However, Apple could be finally bringing biometrics to the masses if done right. The Cupertino company has a history of introducing features after its competitors that are executed much better. Think back to cut-and-paste in iOS. Apple took the time to get it right before bringing it to market.
I unlock my phone multiple times a day. This feature would be a winner for iPhone users and opens the door for future retail partnerships and technologies built around iOS. It just all comes down to the implementation.
Image Credits: Hamza Sood / Twitter, IT Law Wiki
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