Will Every Smartphone End Up Supporting Fingerprints?

The iPhone 5S fingerprint scanner.

At least on the outside, Apple’s iPhone 5S doesn’t appear much different from its predecessor, the iPhone 5—with the exception of the fingerprint sensor embedded in the home button.

For those who’ve purchased the iPhone 5S, that fingerprint sensor offers a number of interesting features. You can unlock your phone by placing a digit on the home button; your fingerprint will also authorize payments to iTunes.

Questions about security aside—there are reports that a photo of a fingerprint can be used to unlock an Apple device—other phone manufacturers now seem determined to get into the finger-scanning game: HTC’s upcoming One Max could feature the hardware, according to The Verge and other sources, while an article in USA Today suggests that more Android-based smartphones could support fingerprinting by early next year.

“We make tradeoffs to balance security with convenience,” Manoj Nair, general manager of identity trust management at RSA, told the latter newspaper. “The next generation of identity protection will allow us to be more convenient and secure at the same time.”

Will fingerprint scanners soon become a smartphone-industry standard? That probably hinges on whether the version integrated into the iPhone 5S stays secure and relatively glitch-free—and whether rival smartphones can pull off the same trick.

Apple executives like to emphasize how the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner represents a delicate dance of technologies and high-end components; if competing manufacturers don’t put the same amount of effort into their own versions (something that seems likely, given many of those companies’ mixed track record on everything from software to touch-screens), the submarket could quickly fill with failures, which in turn could retard broader adoption of fingerprint scanning as a way of unlocking phones and purchasing things online.

And that would prove a shame, because the ease of fingerprint scans could encourage more people to lock down their phones, which would make things more secure for everyone.


Image: Apple