Apple’s new iPhone 5S is sporting plenty of new features, but the one that (arguably) got the most attention is the new fingerprint-scanning feature. Though several companies have toyed with the idea of adding biometric scanning features to smartphones, the technology to develop this feature has never been quite good enough for a wide rollout due to issues with screen sensitivity and potential cost.

However, the iPhone has finally figured out a way to make this technology work, and surprisingly, it’s not tethered to the screen. According to Gizmodo, the new fingerprint reader device is tucked inside the home button and is designed to replace the iconic “slide to unlock” feature. Users will simply need to touch their finger to the home button, and the phone will unlock. The sensor itself is virtually undetectable, as the home button is still flush with the device. The sensor is also very sensitive, so the home button doesn’t even have to be pushed to produce a reading. A simple tap will do.

The sensor on the button, referred to by Apple as the “Touch ID capacitive sensor,” maps the ridges in your fingerprint the first time you touch it, and then the phone encrypts and stores your fingerprint data on the A7 chip. In order to provide the best security possible, the fingerprint data isn’t sent to iCloud or any other cloud or Apple service, and must be stored on the phone only.

These extra security measures are necessary because the fingerprint data stored on the phone will be linked to your iTunes account in the same way that a password is now. Making changes to the account and purchasing apps through iTunes will require a quick thumb scan instead of a password, as long as the feature is enabled. Apple has not said if a dual-factor authentication method (password plus biometric) security option will be supported.

The fingerprint reader function is definitely a huge innovation in personal security and may help cut down on not only things like identity theft, but also “Apple Jacking,” which is the practice of stealing Apple products specifically and then selling them on the secondary market.

Apple is hoping to open the biometric scanning function up to developers, who will be able use this feature in their applications as a replacement for app-specific passwords. If and when this does occur, the iPhone 5S could be the first device to really become “password free.”

Image courtesy of Flickr.




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