The iPhone X ditched Touch ID for Face ID. Now… the iPhone 13 just might be bringing Touch ID back. But.. Probably not in the way you expect and… probably not for the reasons you think.
Rumors of Touch ID coming back to the iPhone have been making the rounds for… a long time now.
In May of 2019, Financial Analyst Blayne Curtis said in a research note that:
2020 iPhones will have more significant changes, including 5G support, 3D sensing via the rear camera system, and acoustic fingerprint technology that could allow for full-screen Touch ID
And, yeah, well… two out of three ain’t bad, especially from back then.
In August of 2019, financial analyst and supply chain exfiltrator extraordinaire Kuo Ming-Chi pushed that date back to 2021, saying:
Apple will launch the new iPhone equipped with both Face ID and FOD to enhance security and convenience thanks to the multi-biometrics.
Just last week, Jon Prosser said he heard Touch ID was indeed in this year’s prototypes.
And there have also been parallel rumors about a next-generation iPhone SE Plus. Like an iPhone XR but with Touch ID instead of Face ID to keep costs down. Full screen, but with either in-display Touch ID or power button Touch ID, like Apple just shipped in the 2020 iPad Air.
Which, the latter of course, for an SE, yes, sure, makes just all the sense in the world that does.
But for the iPhone 13… why go to all the trouble of deleting Touch ID with the iPhone X in 2017 just to bring it back with the iPhone 13… or whatever Apple calls the 2021 iPhone in… 2021.
Well, see… the thing is… because the goal was never to delete Touch ID in the first place. Or even to make it. Or make Face ID.
Wait… I know… I know… That sounds just all shades of bananas, but the thing is… Touch ID and Face ID have always only ever been two different ways for Apple to achieve the one same basic goal — to make iPhone security more convenient.
To make unlocking the iPhone so easy people would be willing to lock it in the first place. Which, back before Touch ID, turns out a huge amount of people just weren’t even doing.
So, when Apple deleted the Home button in 2017, they knew they’d have delete Touch ID, their fingerprint identity scanner, along with it. I mean, that or move it.
And, back then, in-screen fingerprint identity scanners just weren’t ready for prime time, and putting regular old Touch ID on the back just seemed ordinary, common place. Worse… stuck in place. Failing to move forward. Whatever the opposite is of a wicked flex.
But with Face ID, a facial geometry identity scanner, Apple saw the opportunity to, sure, do something that would be really hard for anyone else to duplicate, like for years, but that would also be even more convenient. Everything else being equal, almost transparent.
As in, you didn’t even have to press a Home button to unlock your iPhone any more. You just had to look at it.
But, just like Touch ID wouldn’t work at a distance, like in a dock or car mount, or with gloves on or when your finger was wet, Face ID wouldn’t work at an angle, like on a table or shelf, or with a mask on.
And neither could be used for multi-factor authentication because, counter-intuitive as it may seem, if you force both passcode and fingerprint, for example, and then burn or cut your finger, you’re locked out of your phone. Unless you add a recovery key or security token, and then you’re dealing with even greater complexity. Which is… the opposite of convenience.
So, sure, when he reached the New World, Cortez burned his ships. As a result his men were well motivated.
Apple burned Touch ID. As a result the Face ID teams were well motivated. And… they… managed to ship.
But that was then. This is now. And with the early optical versions of in-display fingerprint identity scanners behind us, the kind that needed to light up and could be fairly easily spoofed by prosthetics, and the first couple generations of ultrasonics, which essentially used radar instead of photos, far more mature… Apple can say… pour ques no los dos?
Using their own acoustic in-display fingerprint identity scanner patents, Qualcomm’s ultrasonic patents — which I believe came with the licenses Apple took along with the 5G settlement and everything else — they can probably field a best-in-class next-generation in display Touch ID fairly soon.
And that, along with Face ID, means it wouldn’t matter if you were at a distance or at an angle, or if you had gloves on or a mask on, or if your finger was wet. Both systems would just fire and whichever one wins… well, we win either way.
Because it’s never been about just Touch ID or Face ID, right? It’s been about making iPhone security ever more convenient.
And not having to worry about the peccadilloes of one particular form of biometrics or another… you can look… or touch.
And I’ll do you one better — Apple long ago abstracted the security frameworks anyway, so all the iOS and Apple Pay and app features don’t care where the authentication token comes from, Touch ID or Face ID, they just care about the authentication token.
So, in other words, Apple could do this tomorrow… or next fall… and it would already all just work. Together. Amazingly well.