New iPhone All About Security

As everyone knows by now, Apple announced two new iPhones yesterday – the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5s.  The 5c reminds me of the iPod mini – when it was released it was panned as costing too much, not being innovative, the coming in many colors was just a marketing gimmick.  The iPod mini went on to become the best-selling product that Apple had ever sold up to that point.  I think many people – including my own daughters – are going to want those phones.

But today, I am thinking more about the iPhone 5s that the iPhone 5c.  There are many ways that the 5s pushes technology forward.  Here are just a few (and I am leaving out all the advantages that come with Apple’s free new iOS 7 upgrade):

  •  The first-ever 64-bit phone.
  • The first-ever flash that adjusts in real time to match ambient lighting conditions.
  • A camera designed to capture more light (and thus provide much better low-light photos).

As impressive as those advances are, I think that the overwhelming advance – the advance that will be remembered in the way that Siri is remembered as the advance brought with the iPhone 4s – is Apple’s new fingerprint reader.

I have not yet had  chance to use the fingerprint reader, so I reserve the right to modify what I am thinking after I get my fingers on one, but I think the ability to use my finger as a universal self-identifier is an earth-shattering ability.

We have been going through months of news stories about how the NSA has been spying on people around the world and even in the US.  Universal encryption can protect people from that kind of spying – but only if there is a means of proving that the intended recipient (and only the intended recipient) of information is the one on the receiving end.  This problem is one of identification.  Apple’s iPhone fingerprint reader looks like it solves the problem, and it does so easily enough that people will actually use it.

More and more commercial transactions are happening electronically, but a huge drag on growing them even faster is the risk of financial fraud.  Fraud goes away if there is a way to absolutely identify someone as the actual owner of the bank account or credit card that is being used to make a purchase (and make it easy enough for people that they will actually use the system).  Again, Apple’s iPhone fingerprint reader looks like it solves the problem, and it does so easily enough that people will actually use it.

Does the Apple fingerprint reader do those things today?  No – Apple is learning as they go.  It will initially simply replace the unlock code on a phone with the easy fingerprint reader and will use the fingerprint as a means to identify purchasers of item from Apple’s iTunes Store.

This first item is not trivial.  All of us that use smartphones keep huge amounts of information on them – information that we do NOT want to have fall into the hands of unscrupulous people.  Apple has two systems of locking iPhones: a long password and a simple four-digit passcode.  But fewer than half of the people who use iPhones today use either of those systems to safeguard their information.  Apple’s hope is that by making use of the fingerprint reader simple enough, most people will use it to protect themselves.  This worked before – once iTunes made purchasing songs for $0.99 simple enough, Napster-style theft of music dropped dramatically (and iTunes became the largest seller of music in the world).

The second use of the fingerprint reader shows the future.  Once Apple uses it to identify purchasers at its own iTunes Store and works out any kinks, they will be in a position to open the use to wider electronic commerce.  Instead of purchasing with a credit card and handing over my driver’s license to show that I am me, I envision being able to purchase by having my iPhone securely beam purchase information (a credit card number, my bank account information, or even my iTunes account information) and ensure that I am me because it has verified identity with my fingerprint.

The Apple fingerprint reader, and what it can lead to, can improve the standard of living for everyone.  Commerce becomes easier and less expensive.  Risk of fraud is lower and thus, again, commerce becomes less expensive.

This is the best of what technology can do.  It is good for Apple, but not just good for Apple.  It is good for Apple customers, but not just good for Apple customers.

It is a social good – good for everyone.


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