With the iPhone 5s, Apple has introduced the first, functional, mainstream fingerprint ID sensor - Touch ID. With it, the touch of your finger activates a scanner that reads the living, sub-dermal layer for ridges, arches, and whorls, transfers the data to a secure enclave on the brand new Apple A7 processor, and then returns a simple yes/know response to unlock the phone or authorize an iTunes transaction. Once you get used to how easy and utterly transparent it is, you start to want it everywhere, and you don't stop. How about the iPad 5 and iPad mini 2, rumored to be coming this October? How about the Mac?
It just authenticates
So far, based on all of our tests with multiple people on multiple devices, Touch ID just works. It works so well when you try a device without Touch ID, you become instantly annoyed it doesn't have it. It works so well even Mobile Nations luminaries from other platforms, like Kevin Michaluk want it on all things, immediately.
That's human nature. We're content with what we have only for as long as it takes us to realize we want more of it. Eating the best pie in the world, we'll stop enjoying it and start trying to figure out how we'll get another piece. Our minds, always to the future, never on where we are now.
So, then, to that future, and the future of Touch ID, and where we want it: Everywhere, starting on the iPad, iPad mini, and iPod touch, and, of course, the Mac. What are the technical considerations, and how likely is it to be coming any time soon?
Touch ID on the iPad 5
The iPad 5 is the easiest to imagine. If it gets an Apple A7 or Apple A7X processor - same as the iPhone 5s, or potentially with quad-core graphics to support the additional pixels of the iPad's 2048x1536 Retina display - it should get the secure enclave that comes with it. Then it's just down to Apple adding the Touch ID sensor. The pipe dream here is multiple account support - different finger prints would authorize different users into different environments. That's far less likely. iOS 7 just launched without any sign of that feature, public or discovered so far in private, and the way iOS currently works doesn't make it look like an easy or quick thing to add. Still, the basic new flagship functionality makes sense to add to the new flagship iPad.
Touch ID on the iPad mini 2
The iPad mini is a little tougher to figure out. Last year's iPad mini didn't get the Apple A6 processor, instead it got the year-old Apple A5. That was fine, since it was the same chip as the iPad 2 and the iPad mini was essentially a variant of the iPad 2 line. It wasn't Retina like the iPad 4. If Apple brings Retina to the next iPad mini, would they try and do it with an Apple A6 or A6X, or would they go all out with an Apple A7 series chip? If the former, it would keep costs down and keep differentiation up - the big iPad would remain the top-of-the-line iPad - but it would prevent Touch ID from being present. If the latter, then, like the iPad 5, Touch ID would certainly be a possibility and low end vs. high end positioning would remain the only consideration.
Touch ID on the iPod touch
Like the iPad mini, the iPod touch currently uses the Apple A5 processor. It's not clear Apple's going to update the existing models this year, and if they did, it's not clear Apple would bump them to A7 processors if they did. Maybe next year?
Touch ID on the Mac
The Mac is a whole other kettle of fish. Literally. It doesn't - yet - run on Apple's A-series processor line, but on Intel's hardware, and it doesn't have a Home button. It's conceivable Apple could create a custom Touch ID chip for Macs that replicates just that functionality from the Apple A7. It's also conceivable Apple could replace the power button on existing iMacs and Mac Minis, and on the new Mac Pros with something that combines Home button-style functionality with power button functionality. MacBooks have lost that button in recent generations, moving its job to a keyboard key, so that would have to be reverted. Or, some type of distinct Touch ID button could be added.
While Apple trackpads are capacitive glass, like the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, only MacBooks ship with those built in, and requiring a Magic Trackpad could be onerous. Also, Apple didn't add the Touch ID to the display on iOS devices because you touch it all the time, not just for unlock or authorization, so sticking Touch ID into something else you touch all the time, namely a trackpad, probably isn't the best solution either, and for the same reasons.
Likewise, Trusted Bluetooth Device - where an authenticated iOS device being present simply unlocks the OS X device - is a great technology, but something that could and hopefully will exist layered with direct auth.
The future of touch
With the original iPhone, Apple made multitouch interface mainstream. It was limited to one device and one very specific set of tasks, but for the first time everyone from the geekiest of geeks to the most tech averse of non-technical people could use mobile devices in a way that not only worked, but delighted.
Now, with the iPhone 5s, Apple has expanded the power, intimacy,and immediacy of touch to authentication and authorization. It's currently just as limited to one device and one very specific set of tasks, but there's every reason to believe it'll take off and grow every bit as much. There are legitimate privacy and security concerns, and everyone will have to decide for themselves whether the convenience of Touch ID makes it worthwhile.
For those who do, however, for those who want to go all-in, the iPad and eventually the Mac just make sense as the next leaps forward.
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