When it comes to new technology, almost anything that Apple comes up with creates an immediate response or imitation on the market. Apple has been, is and will likely remain a true pioneer and forward-thinking company for many years to come. Now, with the launch of the iPhone 5s, the Cupertino giant has also come up with the fingerprint sensor, a feature whose impact we are yet to understand.
Fingerprint sensors, scanners or readers are not new devices, they have been on the market for quite a while, but only now will they start to really matter, as Apple has decided to include them into their versatile, do-it-all iPhone. After showing a clear interest in fingerprint security, Apple has finally acquired mobile and network security company AuthenTec Inc for not less than $356 million. The acquisition of AuthenTech is one of Apple’s biggest mergers in its 36 year history.
As a result, Apple now basically owns company’s patents, it has control of its fingerprint sensors, touchchips and security technologies. And AuthenTec is not a small company, not at all. AuthenTec actually has more registered patents in the security technology – many of which probably relate to fingerprint sensors – than any of its rivals – 200 U.S. patents. AuthenTec also had some customers that are actually Apple’s rivals, with such names Lenovo, LG, Motorola, Nokia or Samsung. Apple could either use this to continue licensing or, they could secure the products and keep the technology only for their sole purposes.
Apple could boost mobile commerce and corporate adoption
Apple is known to play by its own rules when it comes to their partnerships with carriers all over the world. Perhaps that’s why recently, three major Russian carriers have chosen to dump Apple’s iPhones, mainly because of subsidies and marketing costs. However, according to a report from Wells Fargo Securities analyst Maynard Um, dating back from the beginning of this month, Apple is expected to become more flexible with the carriers that it’s dealing with. Also, the inclusion of the fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5s is said to drive up adoption rates among consumer and enterprise markets.
We believe AAPL has become less rigid with wireless operators, which we see as critical, as we believe an appropriately priced iPhone is not enough by itself to expand distribution.
Referring to the fingerprint sensor technology, mister Maynard Um also cared to mention:
As consumers increasingly rely on mobile devices to transact and store personal data, a reliable device-side authentication solution may become a necessity
Now, there’s a triangle of forces here: Apple, carriers and enterprise clients. If Apple will soften up on their policies and conditions with carriers, then they have all the chances of increasing the number of carriers they deal with on a global scale. By doing so, they will get better exposure in front of business clients, since they are most likely to see the benefits of the strong security measures found in fingerprint sensors than regular consumers.
Apple has already managed to sign a deal with NTT DOCOMO, Japan’s largest carrier, to start selling the iPhone in Japan. Also, Apple is very, very close to seal the iPhone deal with China Mobile, which has almost 750 million subscribers, being the world’s largest carrier. As Apple prepares for its separate media event in China today, we are receiving the news that Apple has received the required network license for its iPhone lineup from Chinese government regulators.
Apple’s fingerprint sensor opens up the ability to perform secure device-side authentication, which could help expand further the mobile commerce market. So, taking all this into account, this should make investors happy. However, despite of all this, Apple’s shares have dropped by almost three percent after announcing the new iPhones. That’s probably because investors are underestimating the fingerprint sensor technology and the mighty new processors, as well.
The competition will follow
With the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, Apple has basically broken new grounds in consumer electronics by taking biometric technology mainstream. Do you think Samsung and others will do nothing? Of course, at the moment, Apple has a clear advantage over others, as it always had, of being the first. Not the first to invent, but the first to know how to sell, the first to know how to integrate a much needed technology almost seamlessly into their iPhone.
It might take a while, but I’m almost sure somebody else will come with another biometric invention. Benjamin Chen, CEO of Arkami, the company that builds myIDkey, a USB thumb drive secured with biometrics, said the following:
There’s no question — since we’re working with biometric providers — the other major mobile manufacturers already have products in the queue coming out. Their number one competitor will have the model soon.
Consumers will learn to appreciate and love biometric signatures, first of all because they are easier to set up and use; in one word, they aren’t like passwords. Apple itself has disclosed during the iPhones launch event that many of its own users don’t even bother to set up passwords. I, for one, always fear the possibility of losing my password or forgetting the unlock pattern on my Android phone. A fingerprint sensor is not only a quite secure way to lock your smartphone, but also a cool one.
Just like any other new technology, the fingerprint sensor in the iPhone and who knows, maybe in the iPad, as well, still faces some challenges and we still have some unanswered questions. The first big challenge is this – is the world ready for such a technology? Do consumers really need this? But my guess is that even if the world is not ready and even if we don’t really need this, from some points of view, Apple will make you realize why this is important and why you must have it. Especially now, when security and privacy are being debated and discussed about so much in the world.
It is known that the average period of time one owns a smartphone is for at least 18 months. Is the sensor good enough to work during that time and after? Since this is a new piece of hardware, won’t there be usability issues with it? Placing the fingerprint sensor right under the home button is a good and a bad idea in the same time. That place will get most likely get dirty, covered with oils from your finger. And there’s really nothing you can do to protect it. Your iPhone will be exposed to many things, but will the fragile fingerprint sensors resist?
Next, just how secure the fingerprint sensor really is and where do your fingerprints get stocked? Apple said that they are encrypted on the A7 chip. However, we know that every iOS version so far has been jailbroken and this trend won’t never end, most likely. Apple didn’t say if fingerprints are going to be kept in the cloud either, probably because of the recent stories about the NSA. The same Benjamin Chen also added on this subject:
If the fingerprints could get hijacked, it becomes serious. But you can change your password, you can’t change your fingerprint.
You’d think that with a fingerprint sensor on your iPhone, you’re more likely to be protected against thieves. That might be true in some cases. But when it comes to ruthless thieves, we might have a big problem. A terrible, gruesome one, actually. Talking to the Mirror, Mr Rogers, the chief researcher at mobile security firm Lookout, said:
Thieves in some regions have worked out that you can force a victim to unlock a secured device, and in some extreme cases have also mutilated victims in order to steal their fingerprint.
Of course, these are inevitable dangers that we are faced with day-by-day, but when a reputed security tells you that, it becomes an issue.
History has been written with the launch of the fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5s. Whatever happens next in the field of personal security and biometric technology will have to refer to this moment. In a few years, we won’t be forced to choose poor passwords and having to remember them. Of course, there are challenges and there will be, but I’m confident we will be able to overcome them.
There will always be thieves and ways to break the rules, but whatever Apple is doing right now, it’s in order to minimize the risks. Heck, many iPhone owners have become so accustomed to the Find my iPhone function, that they can’t probably imagine how easy was it to stole an iPhone in its early days.
My favorite feature in the new iPhone 5s is the fingerprint sensor. And I can already envision that the launch of the next iPhone in 2014 will bring with it a more powerful, enhanced and more secure fingerprint sensor. I am also curious to see what will the competition come up with.