Now that the dust has settled after the launch of the iPhone 5S, it’s time to take a step back and consider the practical applications of one of its most important new features. iPhone Touch ID, enabled through the phone’s new fingerprint scanning Home Button, is an intriguing technology that sets the iPhone 5S apart from its rivals once more, just as Siri did back in 2011.
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So how does the iPhone fingerprint scanner work and what can we expect to see it achieve, both on the current generation iPhone 5S and next year’s iPhone 6, which will arrive at a point when the technology is even more mature and useful?
Thumbs Up for Security
iPhone Touch ID can store fingerprints for multiple users on a single iPhone 5S and the idea is that it will first and foremost be a way of letting users unlock their handsets without having to remember a pass code. This is great news for the forgetful people out there who might have locked themselves out of their own phone because they couldn’t shake a four digit number out of their heads. But what makes iPhone Touch ID even safer is the way that Apple handles the stored fingerprints. The Home Button basically takes a picture of the finger that’s used to touch it and analyses this, comparing it against the copies that are stored in the iPhone 5S’ new A7 processor. This means that the fingerprints never get sent anywhere else and stay in a secure section of the phone, so that they can’t be analysed or compromised by anyone else, even Apple.
Enacting improvements to basic phone security is great and it is this integral level of protection that will help to fuel Touch ID’s expansion into other areas of the iPhone experience.
Of course the main question to ask in the wake of the recent scandals involving Edward Snowden, the NSA and the UK’s GCHQ is will Apple give my fingerprints to the government? It’s pretty difficult to tell in the long run, given that government agencies have asked tech companies to build back doors into software to help them harvest data. However, since the fingerprints aren’t stored anywhere else, Apple will have to change the way that Touch ID works before your privacy could be compromised by the government, or anyone else for that matter.
If you want to buy something from the App Store or iTunes then iPhone Touch ID on the iPhone 5S should let you confirm a purchase quickly and effectively, but what if you wanted to pay for something on a third party site like Amazon or eBay? Being able to carry out online shopping with iPhone fingerprint scanner technology seems like it would be a real selling point for the iPhone 5S and could even make up for the fact that Apple hasn’t bothered to include an NFC chip on its latest handsets in spite of the media clamouring for this connectivity.
The idea would be that you could use your smartphone to shop as normal, then use your fingerprint as a form of authentication when going through the checkout process. This would mean that you wouldn’t need to enter a password or any other personal information and you could shop uninhibited. iPhone Touch ID improvements on Apple iPhone 6 handsets could even make it possible to log into online banking services using just your fingerprint, although there are probably some security hurdles to overcome before that’s allowed.
iPhone Touch ID Detective
With a fingerprint scanner on the iPhone, there are plenty more features that could be created of a weirder and wilder nature. For example, third party apps might be able to take advantage of the scanner to help police in their fight against crime. Being able to check fingerprints against a central database while on the move sounds like it could be a great tool to help catch criminals and avoid getting innocent people involved in investigations. It could even turn ordinary citizens into amateur sleuths, using their phones to collect evidence to pass onto the cops.
Hopefully iPhone Touch ID isn’t just a gimmick, but something that Apple will evolve over the next few years.
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