Apple’s next iPhone may have fingerprint recognition


The new Apple Inc. iPhone 5 is displayed for a photograph during an event in San Francisco, on Sept. 12, 2012. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)
July 30, 2013

You may already consider your iPhone an extension of your body. And according to developers playing around with the early builds of Apple’s next mobile operating system, you may be putting even more of a personal imprint on your phone in the future.

As 9 to5 Mac reported, developers have said that a folder within the latest build of Apple’s forthcoming iOS 7 includes references to a fingerprint scanner on the iPhone, which could be located in the home button. The scanner, the report said, would be able to read the thumbprint of an iPhone user when he or she holds the smartphone with one hand. Apple could not immediately be reached for comment.

The thought that your iPhone may — and we should put an emphasis on that word, may — be able to read your thumbprint is an exciting one, but also a feature that should be used and implemented with care. Apple will have to make a pretty strong security case that the biometric data we may put into a device can not only protect data we put in the phone, but also be well-protected itself. The Federal Trade Commission has already taken steps to see what it can do to ensure the safety of fingerprint and facial recognition data — further adoption of this kind of technology will likely also merit close scrutiny from consumer protection agencies.

Speculation about Apple possibly including biometric scanning in its devices has been floating around since the company bought the mobile security firm AuthenTec last July. There are plenty of reasons that Apple may be interested in offering users a more secure way to use their devices — notably the potential of mobile payments.

Mobile payments are one of those ideas that seems to cycle around every year as being just on the tip of going mainstream. But it’s actually a very difficult concept to get moving in the general marketplace.

Retailers don’t want to risk investing in mobile payments unless they see consumer demand, and consumers don’t want to try out these payments unless they’re supported by their favorite retailers. Mobile payment systems such as Google Wallet have made some impact thanks to the fact that more smartphone makers are putting payment chips in their phones, but it’s far from a mainstream activity at the moment.

With its Passbook app, Apple has shown that it can handle the management aspect of the digital wallet by letting users save gift cards, loyalty cards, coupons and tickets onto their phones. But it has yet to dip its toe into showing how secure it can make transactions that directly impact the bank account. If Apple does include some sort of mobile payments option in its next phone, it will add a ton of mobile-payment ready customers to its ranks, which in turn could spur greater adoption of mobile payments overall.

As for what else Apple might have up its sleeve in the hardware space, there’s renewed speculation that the company will be releasing a cheaper iPhone, thanks to a report that tech blogs including Boy Genius Report picked up from a Chinese Web site claiming to have leaked pictures of cases for a plastic-bodied phone called the iPhone 5C — though the report also noted there are some points about the leaked photo that may suggest it has been faked.

A Monday labor report from China Labor Watch, outlining alleged labor violations in the factories of Apple supplier Pegatron, also had the secondary effect of seeming to confirm that Apple is working on a plastic-backed version of the iPhone by detailing the plight of workers making the device.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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