Apple iPhone 5S: Decoding the Touch ID Fingerprint Sensor and how it changes the way we use passwords

Apple iPhone 5S Touch ID (Fingerprint Sensor)

Apple’s premium smartphone iPhone 5S has been launched and we’ve tried to cover it in detail from its first impressions to comparisons with affordable iPhone 5C and even its predecessor iPhone 5. But, as many of you would agree the game-changing feature in the iPhone 5S got to be fingerprint sensor touted as Touch ID. Before Apple, the mechanism was used in laptops, which more often than not, turned out to cumbersome affair and hence easily forgotten. It’s not the first time either for the mobile phone to get the fingerprint sensor, the first one being Motorola Atrix 4G which also failed to make an impact. With Apple, things are different as the company never ventures into something with half-baked ideas. Let’s see what it is and how you can use it-

What is it?

The Touch ID replaces the iconic Home button of previous iPhones, with the button now functioning as both the Touch ID fingerprint sensor as well as the tactile Home button. The sensor itself is 170 microns thin and has a resolution of 500 ppi with 360-degree readability to effectively scan the user’s finger while at the same time not adding any physical bulk to the design. For now, the Touch ID sensor will be used for unlocking the device and purchasing content from iTunes such as Music, Movies, Books and Apps. Going forward, we can certainly see the usage of this security feature being expanded for ecommerce payments or even payment at physical stores. However, that will not happen soon as Apple tends to take time in perfecting any technology and then expands it.

Apple iPhone 5S Home Button components

How does it works?

Apple has decided to go with a capacitive sensor for the Touch ID as opposed to an optical sensor. While an optical sensor simply takes a picture of the fingerprint, the capacitive sensor actually scans the finger. According to Apple, the Touch ID sensor scans the sub-epidermal skin layers. To explain this, we must look at the skin on the finger where the fingerprint resides. There are two layers of skin, namely the epidermal and sub-epidermal layers. The epidermal layer is non-conductive while the sub-epidermal is conductive. So, when you scan your finger through the Touch ID, the sensor measures the conductivity of the miniscule lines that make up your fingerprint and uses this information to form an image of your fingerprint. To switch on the Touch ID sensor, all the user has to do is place his/her finger on the Home button to activate it, which is done by the metal ring that now surrounds the button. The process is very quick and accurate.

Apple iPhone 5S Fingerprint SensorApple iPhone 5S- Fingerprint authentication for iTunes purchase

Another important thing to note that is the device can store multiple fingerprints so for example, a user can store their both left and right thumbs scans. Similarly, it can be extended to storing fingerprints of all the family members so that they can also access the device at times. We should also know that the fingerprint security works in conjunction with passcode and doesn’t replaces it.

That’s fancy, but how secure is it?

Biometric security measures are seen as some of the most secure measures currently available and fingerprints are a widespread method of ascertaining an individual’s identity. By introducing this technology on smartphones, an entirely new method is introduced wherein the user can ensure that their device is secure as well as making passwords close to irrelevant. There is also the added bonus of the user never having to remember (and as an extension, forget) the numerous passwords they have for their accounts and devices, as it is pretty difficult to forget one’s finger.

Privacy pundits are also having various theories about the possible fingerprint scans being sent to NSA. But, Apple ensures that the fingerprints are saved in the device only and not save on Apple’s servers or iCloud.

Closing Thoughts

The Touch ID fingerprint-scanning sensor on the iPhone 5S introduces a security revolution to ensure that the devices that people use everyday and store every facet of their lives on are truly secure from being stolen. It is only a matter of time before other manufacturers follow in Apple’s footsteps and also include such technology on their own phones. It is still early days but the introduction of this technology on devices that are used by the masses may signal an end to the conventional password for doing trivial tasks.

What is your opinion? Will you be using your fingerprints for unlocking the phone or it sounds like a gimmick?

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One of the earliest members of the 91mobiles' editorial team, Nitansh is a walking encyclopaedia of product specs. Name a phone and he’ll tell you the specifics on screen resolution, processor and camera without blinking an eyelid. Ask him if he remembers the launch date of a noteworthy phone, and he'll tell you the dates when the device first leaked, its global unveil, its Indian launch, and when it got a significant update. He’s a lover of all things Android, and loves writing reviews and scouting for new apps. A Wordpress whiz, he’s always ready to help out a fellow writer. While he juggles between many things at 91mobiles, he always manages to find time to write. In his non-tech avatar, Nitansh is a philatelist, which is a fancy word for stamp-collector.