Apple's AuthenTec acquisition, and why they may have wanted to move so quickly

Less than a month ago, a story broke about Apple buying AuthenTec, purveyors of mobile, digital security solutions including fingerprint authentication. While some Apple purchases, like Siri and Intrisity seem to suggest obvious uses, AuthenTec's portfolio and Apple's lack of any branded security beyond FairPlay DRM made intuiting this one a little less obvious. But now PREM14A proxy statement papers have been filed, and The Next Web's Matt Brian has dug through them.

Will we see fingerprint technology in the new iPhone (or iPad)? It seems almost certain. AuthenTec specialises in a number of security products and software that theoretically could have made their way into Apple’s production line or code branches. Details are scarce but its desire to use the technology and see it developed quickly leads us to speculate that we could see it in just a matter of weeks.

Would the September 12 event give Apple enough time to acquire, develop, and integrate fingerprint technology into the iOS product line? Could this be something on track for the iPhone 5 or iPad mini?

Apple introduced Passbook at WWDC 2012, but cast it as a ticket and coupon repository with deft notification and location hooks. Many have imagined that it could also be a fantastic brand and front end for an Apple mobile payments solution, combining NFC and iTunes transaction processing to help bring about the digital wallet. Securing a system like that with biometrics would certainly add a layer of confidence, and make for a fantastic demo and commercial.

But how would it work? How would Apple, a company that prides itself on the aesthetic elegance and minimalism of their hardware design, integrate a unitasker like a fingerprint reader in an elegant and minimalist way? The Home button would seem ideal, but how well would it work, and how dependable would it be?

The idea of new hardware features always excites, but expectations aren't always realistic. We'll have to wait and see. However many questions the securities filings answer, they raise even more -- and ones we'll likely only get answers to when and if Apple's implementation of AuthenTec technology begins to surface.

Meanwhile, The Next Web has put together an excellent overview and chronology for the Apple/AuthenTec deal, so go check it out.

Source: SEC, The Next Web

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Judging from Apple's excitement over the new technology, I would wager that it is NOT unitask. How about a touch panel so fine-grained it can pick up fingerprint ridges? With the ability to sense fingerprints using the whole screen, two game changers spring to mind : 1) No more signatures or passwords. Coupled with NFC... wow.
    2) The ultimate in per-user configurations. Pick up a device - ANY device - and, unless the feature is disabled or set to family-only, it downloads your settings from iCloud following a confirmation prompt. Properly patented it would destroy the competition.
  • I’m not a pundit, just a professor, so think of this as a “thought” exercise. The real reason Apple bought Authentec has nothing to do with security, but everything with creating that truly magical pane of glass. For a bunch of sci-fi fans, many tech industry journalists have little imagination when it comes to predicting Apple’s innovations. One small benefit of their rationality is that it appears to help them avoid arrest because, had they ever been fingerprinted, they might recall that all 10 digits are required. A touch-based computer that can effortlessly distinguish which finger is on the glass will spawn a new era in user-interface design. Apple bought Authentec outright because their work allows Johnny Ive to dispense with borders and buttons on the front of any iThing. You don’t need a place to rest your thumb if iOS’s multitouch API is smart enough to tell a thumb from an index finger. Sound far-fetched? Well, that’s the luxury of academia, but when I recently asked some students to think about how a device “smart” enough to know which digit was on its surface could enable a new vocabulary of gesture-based input the brainstorming, flood gates opened wide. If Apple can master retina display performance, they must be on the verge of a whole new level of detail in capacitive touch sensor design. We tend to believe (but we’re dreamers) that Apple is close to combining the essential technologies of today that will make for some amazing product placement opportunities in the next Iron Man movie. To quote Pablo Picasso, "Everything you can imagine is real."
  • IBM & HP. Must be on crack to let this purchase slide by them.
    Any half decent implementation will still be awesome and a big improvement in security. 2 step Authentication in a new way User via biometrics and device via nfc.
  • They may have already implemented it. Got a call from their attorneys telling them they are infringing patents and bought the company before it became public and their value skyrocketed. That's a possibility rather than license just buy it
  • Ha! Sounds like a sound theory to me. (I'm being serious, not sarcastic.)
  • I don't think a fingerprint scanner will be on the new iPhone.
  • Who said they moved quickly on this? Are you really suggesting they bought a company in July to implement something on a September iPhone? And a hardware solution nonetheless? For all we know Apple might have been in talks for months now, and may have no definite plans yet to implement this. And we're much more likely to see fingerprint scanners on Macbooks than on iPhones. Not to mention that Authentec is much more a DRM and content protection company than a fingerprint tech company, and Apple is still trying to get its content TV deals in place to make its fabled TV set happen. I don't see this purchase relating to the iPhone or the iPad anytime soon.