For years, unlocking your smartphone or tablet meant entering a numerical code or swiping a pattern onto a grid of dots. But that could change with the next iPhone: London-based developer Hamza Sood has uncovered a folder in iOS 7 beta 4 that suggests Apple’s next device will include a fingerprint sensor of some sort.
In reporting Sood’s discovery, the Apple-centric blog 9to5Mac also quoted an unnamed source “familiar with the development of the new iPhone” who suggested the device would include a fingerprint-scanning system for unlocking the home screen. While the next iPhone will surely include all sorts of upgraded hardware—including a more powerful camera and processor—a security-centric fingerprint scanner would be a truly new addition to the smartphone market, in terms of features.
While a scanner wouldn’t solve every mobile-security issue, it could go a long way toward locking down data stored on smartphones and tablets. For starters, it saves people the trouble of remembering a multi-digit PIN or complex pattern, which could translate into more people actually locking down their devices. Second, technology capable of discerning between living and dead tissue ensures that no highly motivated thieves will chop off somebody’s finger in order to bypass the scanner—making the method even more secure than other solutions on the market.
With Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) expected to become a way of life for most companies within the next few years, IT administrators and other tech pros will be looking for ways to secure employee-owned devices against loss and intrusion; fingerprint sensors could be just the solution, although the technology may insert yet another layer of complexity to most companies’ security operations (employees will need training in best practices, for example). Nonetheless, if Apple rolls out the ability to unlock the iPhone with a fingerprint, it could persuade more security-conscious businesses to jump aboard iOS (provided the technology proves stable, of course).
Apple didn’t show off a fingerprint interface when it unveiled iOS 7 at this summer’s WWDC in San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean the technology isn’t coming—it was clear from the presentation that iOS 7 is a work in progress. The bigger question is when the next iPhone will actually hit the market. Apple CEO Tim Cook has promised new products starting this fall, and the assumption is that the next-generation smartphone will make its debut at that time.