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Digital River - Talk to the Experts

Fingerprint-Recognition Flubs May Be Foiling iPhone Production

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Apr 26, 2013 5:00 AM PT

Fingerprints may do more than smudge the screen of the next iPhone. They may be holding up its production.

Fingerprint-Recognition Flubs May Be Foiling iPhone Production

There's been some grumbling in Apple's supply chain due to delays in getting the next iPhone on the assembly line, Reuters reported this week, noting that production originally scheduled for June may have to be pushed back.

Contributing to the delay is a new feature in the handset that allows it to read fingerprints. It seems Apple is having trouble finding a coating for the phone that won't interfere with the fingerprint sensor, according to Reuters.

If such a feature is being added to the iPhone, it presumably would be used for authenticating a phone's owner, possibly as an alternative to passwords and lock codes.

Ready for Prime Time?

Including a fingerprint sensor in the new iPhone could be risky for Apple.

"Previous devices with this technology haven't worked very well," Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst with Forrester Research, told MacNewsWorld. "If Apple's doing it, they'll need to raise the bar for performance so as not to frustrate users."

Despite being around for a while, biometrics is still in a nascent state of development.

"There's a question whether biometrics are ready for prime time for the general public," Carl Howe, research director at the Yankee Group, told MacNewsWorld.

"There's also a question of consumer acceptance. Am I willing to be finger printed every time I use my phone? It seems a bit of overkill," he added.

"For most people, this isn't Fort Knox," Howe said. "This is their phone. As such, I'm not sure they're going to be willing to give up swipe-to-unlock."

Consumer Acceptance

However, it appears that consumers are ready to accept biometric alternatives to traditional credentials such as user names and passwords, based on a recent study conducted by the Ponemon Institute and sponsored by Nok Nok Labs.

"Most respondents are comfortable with using biometrics, and believe it is acceptable for a trusted organization such as their bank, credit card companies, health care provider, telecom, email provider or governmental organization to use factors such as voice or fingerprints to verify their identity," reads the study.

More than two-thirds of Americans -- 69 percent -- said they were copasetic with a trusted organization using biometrics to authenticate customers. Those percentages were even higher in the United Kingdom (70 percent) and Germany (74 percent).

Of the biometric methods found acceptable by consumers, fingerprints were the choice of more than half of Americans (56 percent). They were even more acceptable in the UK (59 percent) and Germany (62 percent).

Apple Likes Challenges

Apple is about making like easier for consumers, and if fingerprint authentication makes using the new iPhone easier to use, it could be something the company is considering, reasoned Michael Morgan, a mobile devices analyst with ABI Research.

"It can enhance security, assuming it works right," he told MacNewsWorld. However, "as we can see, they appear to be having trouble making it work right."

Anyone who has ever used a fingerprint-scanning device as a peripheral or on a laptop knows they can be irritating to use. That doesn't sound like something Apple would want in an iPhone, Morgan said.

"What does sound Apple-like is taking a crappy system like that and making it work right," he continued. "I can see them doing something like that."

However, another biometric available to Apple for authenticating an iPhone's owner is voice recognition, Morgan pointed out. What's more, it's a proven technology that's already in the iPhone in the form of Siri.

It's also the most popular biometric for authentication in consumers' minds, the Nok Nok survey indicates.

A large majority of Americans -- 83 percent -- preferred voice recognition over other biometric authenticators. Even more UK (85 percent) and German (91 percent) consumers preferred that biometric.

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