This is one of those occasions when the rumours turned out to be true. There was a talk ahead of the iPhone launch event on September 10 that the high-end Apple phone will come with a fingerprint scanner for added security. Now we know that iPhone 5S indeed packs in a fingerprint scanner, hidden inside its round home button.
This is a unique feature. While there is no doubt that other phone makers will add this feature to their phones, for now it should give Apple an advantage in high-end phone market, and iPhone 5S a better chance at standing up to upcoming Android devices like LG G2 that have better and bigger screens.
A phone is a very personal device and people do care about the security of the data that they store in it. This was reflected in how Phill Schiller, Apple’s VP for marketing, introduced the feature. “iPhone 5S sets a new standard for smartphones, packed into its beautiful and refined design are breakthrough features that really matter to people, like Touch ID, a simple and secure way to unlock your phone with just a touch of your finger,” he said.
Apple is calling the fingerprint scanner Touch ID.
Once a user has stored his fingerprint impression into the device, he will be able to unlock the phone by pressing his finger on the home screen button. Apple said the TouchID can be also be used in apps. For example, in iTunes Store where a user has to put in a password before he can buy an app, Touch ID will negate the use of password. To buy an app a user will have to just provide the device with his fingerprint impression.
Apple said Touch ID was very reliable. “Built into the home button, Touch ID uses a laser cut sapphire crystal, together with the capacitive touch sensor, to take a high-resolution image of your fingerprint and intelligently analyze it to provide accurate readings from any angle,” the company noted in its press release.
The technology of the TouchID seems to have been based on the research by AuthenTec, a company that Apple bought last year for $365 million. Before it was acquired, the company also made fingerprint scanning apps for Android devices.
During the launch event, Apple claimed that the sensor used for Touch ID could scan at a resolution of 550 PPI (pixel per inch). It can scan sub-epidermal skin layers, which means the pattern under the top skin layer, and has 360 degrees readability to make sure that the unlocking of the device works irrespective of the orientation of a user’s finger.
The Touch ID can also store more than one fingerprint. This means anyone who is permitted by the user will be able to unlock his device.
Security of mobile devices has become a huge issue in the wake of NSA leaks. Two days ago a report in a German newspaper claimed that spies employed by National Security Agency (NSA) in the US have broken the security mechanism used in phones and can access data stored in iPhones, BlackBerry phones and Android devices.
Apple hints that Touch ID is more secure method than the normal passwords. “All fingerprint information is encrypted and stored securely in the Secure Enclave inside the A7 chip on the iPhone 5S… it’s never stored on Apple servers or backed up to iCloud,” the company said in the press release.
The reports based on files leaked by Edward Snowden, an ex-contractor with NSA, have highlighted that the agency has capability to intercept data flowing through internet cables. The reports have also claimed that technology companies, including Apple, often give NSA access to data stored in services like iCloud.
Technology have termed these claims false.
By highlighting that fingerprint scans are stored locally, Apple is probably trying to allay security fears users may have over its alleged co-operation with NSA.