Is The iPhone 5S Fingerprint Reader Worth The Wait?
The news last week that the next iPhone will indeed be delayed until Fall combined substantial gains by Samsung have a lot of Apple AAPL +1.4% watchers in a panic. But it is too soon to declare Cupertino out for the count. Perhaps there will be some substantial advancements on the software front at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), on June 10-14, that will set the stage for upcoming hardware releases. And there is always the possibility that the next iPhone is taking longer because it will contain a truly ground-breaking feature that will justify the wait.
One idea of what such a feature could be is the fingerprint scanning technology that Apple has acquired from embedded security supplier AuthenTec. Expounding on this scenario, Mike Elgan writes, that “the ‘i’ in iPhone will stand for ‘’identity,’” and that Apple as “the world’s great creator of markets… [is] capable of creating the house that everybody lives in.” Breathless, but what do you expect from a contributor to Cult of Mac!
Seriously, Elgan has an interesting point. He thinks that the fingerprint tech will be deployed in concert with the long-anticipated NFC chip—which might explain why this has not been incorporated sooner. “I believe Apple sees the NFC chip and fingerprint scanner as part of a Grand Strategy: To use the iPhone as the solution to the digital identity problem,” he writes. People have been talking about phones as a basic unit of identity for years, but Elgan thinks the time is (almost) now, and that Apple is the company to do it.
“Apple loves to solve huge, hitherto unsolved problems,” Elgan writes. “And there is no problem bigger from a lost-opportunity perspective than digital identity.” And he cites a report by The Boston Consulting Group to suggest that the global value of such a solution by 2020 is in the $trillions.
Another intriguing point is how an Apple approach would contrast with Google GOOG +1.16% and Facebook FB +5.62%‘s identity systems. Instead of being a huge network of connected and verified identities, iPhone security (the “s” in “5S”?) puts the user completely in control of what they want to secure and how. Just like the “slide to unlock” preferences on the iPhone now, it seems likely that this new system would give people granular control over how secure they want to be, and in what situations they trust being identified through their phones.
Elgan suggests that this would be the beginning of a multi-device identity method that would allow you to access any of your iCloud (or equivalent) content and settings on any enabled (Apple, but eventually not-just-Apple) device. The fact that iCloud is somewhat broken at present raises the issue of whether the implementation of this feature is the reason (or one of the reasons) for the supposed pushback of the release date for the next iPhone.