It is thanks to the accelerated nature of mobile device evolution that we get so accustomed to new features on our smartphones, and it therefore might come as a shock that the mobile biometric revolution only just kicked off in 2013, almost exactly two years ago as of the writing of this article. Still, that is the case, and as we approach the third generation of iPhone to include a Touch ID sensor, expected to be announced on September 9, 2015, it’s time to take a look back on the recent history of fingerprints and phones.
A Vertical Mater
Shortly after the introduction of Touch ID on the iPhone 5S, we ran a guest feature here at Mobile ID World on the history of the mobile fingerprint sensor. Few will be surprised to learn that the origins of such technology was in law enforcement. Mobile fingerprint devices were brought into police squad cars so that identification of persons of interest could be handled in the field.
Mobility and biometrics are still very vertical-centric, with a strong presence in law enforcement and national ID, as well as a growing presence in healthcare. As biometric technology becomes more accessible thanks to increasing consumer demand for convenient security solutions, the verticals also benefit. Again, law enforcement is leading the charge in this matter, with NYPD officers using smartphone fingerprint scanners in the field and a recent call for smartphone facial recognition by the US government.
An Alternate History
Apple takes the spotlight when it comes to talk of where the consumer biometric revolution started. It fits the bill so well that Maxine Most from Acuity Market Intelligence predicted Touch ID before Apple even acquired AuthenTec – the company whose assets helped build the iPhone’s biometric security. That said, there is a company who was on the ball with the consumer biometrics trend along with the Cupertino popularizers, and their fingerprint smartphone has gone relatively unrecognized in the wake of the revolution.
I am writing of NTT DoCoMo’s Fujitsu smartphone that was released the August preceding Apple’s Touch ID announcement. The phone featured a swipe sensor and was Disney themed, a detail that would prove to be a bit of an understatement and also kind of prescient – while not at all kids stuff, mobile fingerprint scanners would eventually become popular with young consumers.
Why Apple stole DoCoMo’s thunder a month later is no surprise. The iPhone 5S is a worldwide brand, Touch ID was a touch sensor, and Apple aimed its tech at a wider audience from the famously powerful stage of a Cupertino keynote. After the Touch ID announcement, companies including fingerprint sensors in their phones always felt like they were catching up, but Fujitsu and DoCoMo had already made their mark before the festivities. Fujitsu, in fact, has a long history of including fingerprint sensors on phones going back to 2003, beating Touch ID to the punch by a decade.
The Great Following
While the Touch ID fingerprint sensor was spoofed almost immediately after it release, the trend had been cemented. Samsung followed suit, including a swipe sensor on its 2014 flagship device, the Galaxy S5, which was supported by PayPal on announcement. In the months that followed, fingerprint sensors quickly become the norm on new phones, and on the one year anniversary of the iPhone 5S announcement, everything clicked into place.
The launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus marked the solidification of the trend. Since the mobile industry looks to Apple as a thought leader, the inclusion of Touch ID on both those devices and its newest iPad models was an indication that it had no intention of back pedaling, despite its sensor once again being spoofed shortly after release. It wasn’t a surprise, given that Apple’s iOS 8 mobile operating system opened up Touch ID to be incorporated into third party apps, but what was surprising was its new first party application: Apple Pay.
Using fingerprints for authentication on real world payments gave the world a use case we were ready for. In the wake of Apple Pay, new announcements were made by banks and major payment companies, throwing their hats into this new paradigm of easy payments with better-than-PIN or signature security. MasterCard announced its biometric credit card, Samsung and Google unveiled their own mobile wallets, and other modalities entered the sphere too: payment via heartbeat and facial recognition became alternatives (the former actually hitting a major milestone today, with the first Nymi Band payment having been made).
The popularity has surged in fingerprint sensors on phones to a point where the absence of one on a new handset is more notable than its inclusion.
The mobile revolution doesn’t start and stop with fingerprint sensors in home buttons. New software has allowed for a variety of different modalities to replace the passwords that once ruled our lives. Authentication and identity tech is ever evolving, and now that there is such a demand for strong and convenient authentication, as well as a popular use case for it in payments, it makes sense that there’s more in store for fingerprints on handsets.
A new patent filed by Apple has us eagerly awaiting fingerprint sensors built into our smartphones screens, while Sonavation just recently announced that its ultrasonic fingerprint sensor can function beneath Gorilla Glass. Both of these points give a good picture of where the world of consumer authentication is headed: frictionless security and bigger screens.
Of course, with the culture of innovation that has been fostered by this security arms race comes a multimodal landscape that is even more intriguing than the unimodal one suggested by the promise of Touch ID. At the forefront of this movement is, once again, NTT DoCoMo and Fujitsu, with the world’s first ever smartphone featuring an embedded iris scanner.
Stay posted to Mobile ID World throughout August as we continue to explore the Mobile Revolution. Be a part of the conversation by following us on Twitter and tweeting with the hashtag #MIDWRevolution.