Fingerprint scanning is a bad idea

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Apple’s evil plan has finally been revealed. For years, we have all wondered what that button on the front is for. I mean sure, it took you back to the “Home Screen”, but it had to be more right? Why else would they make it a physical button? Why would they put such an ugly, clunky looking circle-square thing right on the face of the most beautiful phone on earth? It just didn’t make any sense.

At last! We discover the end game. Fingerprints. That has to be it. That had to have been the plan all along. There’s no other reason why the surface of every Apple phone would be marred by this big honking button. Now we see the light.

finger-1It seems an intriguing prospect. No one really likes entering a password or phrase. Some developers and OEMs have tried to streamline the process by connecting the dots or by touching a picture in various locations. But there’s never really been a good way to do it.  And, I’m afraid there still isn’t.

Baggage

After all, fingerprint scanners are not without their problems. Take, for example, cost of engineering.  Reports indicate that the fingerprint scanner costs about seven dollars, or $356,000,007 if you include the cost of Apple’s Authentec (a.k.a. the company that makes the fingerprint scanners) acquisition last year. That’s just for the hardware alone. Figure in extra cost of manufacturing, assembly (it probably takes more time/effort/skill to install that than the previous generation’s plastic button), software development – remember all those engineers Apple pulled off of their PC division? –  and it’s probably costing Apple maybe $10-$14 to pop that thing into there. Let’s add in some overheard and general smartphone markup, and you’re looking at an iPhone that probably cost you an extra $30-$40 to upgrade to – not including the two-year contract of course.

But this is all just dollars and cents. Who cares how much the darn thing costs? If they didn’t add forty bucks to it that way they just would’ve found another way to add forty bucks. And you’re probably right about that. There is no way this iPhone was coming out with anything less than a $199 on contract price tag. But what about the security and convenience?

Humans are fallible

lifting a printIt’s true that the fingerprint scanner does add both of those…to a point. But as one tech news site I read put it: This was security designed and made by humans, so it’s hackable by humans as well. In truth, just two days after the iPhone 5s shipped, a group of hackers in Germany called Chaos Computer Club figured out a way to do just that. Using a fingerprint lifted CSI style, they were able to construct a fake finger (cue the “Giving Apple the finger” jokes) and unlock an iPhone, easy peasey. Ok it probably wasn’t “easy peasey” but given a little bit of know-how, it’s not crazy to think that your lost iPhone could but just one jello mold away from having all those naked selfie’s posted on Romanian porn sites. Why Romanian? Well, because Anton works here and we love him.

After 90 days, please change your fingerprint

The thing about biometric security is, it’s kinda permanent. It’s not like you can change your fingerprint. Well, sure you can, if you want to hold your index finger, or the thumb from your off hand every time you want to unlock your phone. I mean, you have ten opportunities right? Well, not the way the user experience is designed. This is meant to be simple, and fast, and holding the phone two-handed to put your pinky on a sensor it neither of those.

There’s also the question of lag. Smartphone users hate lag. The sensor is going to take time to read your fingerprint. Not a whole heck of a lot of time, and some might argue less time than it takes for a user to enter a password. But scanning versus typing equates to passive versus active. When entering a password, you’re going to feel like you’re doing something and moving forward toward the ultimate objective of unlocking your phone, as opposed to kicking back and waiting for the darn phone to unlock. It’s a subtle but notable difference.

Don't want to use the fingerprint scanner? No problem.

Don’t want to use the fingerprint scanner? No problem.

Use it or lose it

Of course, you don’t have to use it. There are other ways to unlock your phone which don’t involve the sensor. You can still use a password, etc. But then, you’ve just taken that forty dollars worth of hardware and morphed it back into that same old big-as-a-house (by smartphone standards) button that we’ve all wondered about from the very beginning. And that just proves my point.

I suspect that, much like Siri, this will be a party bragger. What’s a party bragger? It’s a feature that something has – whether it’s your car, house, phone, or dog – that is generally useless, but is fun to brag about at parties. It’s a gimmick, and one that won’t be popularly used, but those who use it will love it unconditionally and let you know about it at every opportunity.

Biometric scanning just isn’t there yet folks. If it was we’d use it to open our houses and start our cars. Apple may have taken a significant step in the right direction and nudged the technology forward, but at the end of the day it’s just not a feature to build a phone around.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs.Read more about Adam Doud!