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Fingerprint scanners: Fair weather technology?

The iPhone 5S was announced yesterday and one of the biggest changes to the Apple device was the inclusion of a fingerprint scanner. Not far behind, other companies have already made plans to release similar technology in their upcoming devices. While the technology does sound pretty impressive at first glance, we can already see some issues surfacing if this gains some prominent traction.

touch id teaser
Want to use your phone? Better have your fingers ready. / © Apple

While it was no surprise when Apple made the reveal that the iPhone 5S with a fingerprint scanner, it was pleasantly surprising to see. I mean, I have a pattern unlock for my phone and when I’m checking it for the umpteenth time, it does provide a quick and secure way for me to check my phone.

But how much of a time saver will something like this be? With the advantages of some companies moving away from displays that required skin contact to operate, this seems to be moving a bit backwards. If you’re wearing gloves, you’re out of luck and will need to remove them before you can use your phone. Even using special gloves with the adaptive touch capability, something like this would still require a sin contact in order to authenticate.  Tell that to anyone in Canada, Scandinavia, or anywhere where the temperature drops below freeing for almost 8 months of the year.

lumia xperia
Two of the pioneers in display technlogoy: the Lumia 920 (left) and Xperia Z Ultra (right). / © Nokia/Sony/AndroidPIT

Brrrrrr, it's cold outside.

In fact, Nokia (a Finnish company) was the first company to release a phone that didn’t require skin contact to operate with the Lumia 920. Being able to test this out for myself in the winter with some light gloves on, it was amazing to be able to use your phone and not have to expose your fingers to the chill of winter. As well, Sony moved towards this direction with their Sony Xperia Z Ultra and it seemed to be the way of most devices, moving to a display that didn’t require skin contact in order to operate.

The iPhone is a bit of a misnomer though when it comes to this: even the size of the 4-inch display of the iPhone was a big hamper to using even touch screen compatible gloves. It also makes kind of sense that Apple has never chosen to release the iPhone with a touch screen that would be adaptive, much like the Lumia or Xperia Z Ultra. So what does it really matter if we have to use our fingers to unlock it/ authenticate the device? This has less to do just the iPhone, but rather the mass of companies who will now rush to integrate similar technology into their devices and hamper some of our “conveniences”. Sure, it seems pretty petty, but damn, when I’m out and about in the winter and my phone rings, the last thing I want to do is take off my gloves just to be able to answer it.

What will be more important to you in the coming devices? The ability to user your fingerprint as a security key? Or being able to use a touch screen device with gloves on?


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  • siggi Sep 19, 2013 Link to comment

    i don't think, that a fingerprint-scanner is useful in a smartphone. At first it looks good, but in the secound... I'm a little bit familiar with this tecnique and the configuration will bring the user back to the ground. Companies like the german Siedle have such components for use in internal communication systems. The customers already are not so sure,that this will work good enough.
    And are a fingerprint really save? No. Some time ago hackers in germany were on a pressconforence (?) and got a water-glas, which was used by the minister of internal affairs.
    With Mastics, a liquid rubber, they got his fingerprint from the glas....
    Really save...

  • I do not want a fingerprint scanner. Yeah the security may be nice but its more important that I use my phone quickly on a daily bases than security. I did a little happy dance when I found out my Samsung s4 could change the sensitivity so I could wear regular gloves & did not need the special gloves. -I know what's important to me in Minnesota!

  • u78-u^_€€766u7778!!!!!a°°`6

  • Also, do you really want Apple (and therefore the NSA) to have copies of your fingerprints? Because that is basically what it means having a fingerprint scanner built in.

  • Mo Vaid Sep 12, 2013 Link to comment

    Also this isn't the first phone with a fingerprint scanner... That would be an android phone, namely the Motorola atrix 4g

  • Anna F. Sep 11, 2013 Link to comment

    I'm sure there is some backup way to unlock the device if you can't use your fingerprint.

  • tekf33k3n Sep 11, 2013 Link to comment

    I don't know about it being fair-weather tech. I had a fingerprint scanner on my Compaq iPaq back in 2003. It was a near useless feature built in. That being said, It's tech that doesn't really need to be there. It's not so much for speeding things up but for "stronger security" as more BYOD is being implemented. The problem with a fingerprint scanner is - What happens you get dirt on your hands (it changes the read)? What happens if you're mugged and unconscious (swipe the finger of the victim)? Worse yet, what happens if the finger is lost by criminal or accident? Even registering more than one print on more than one hand doesn't always eliminate these issues. This is more "feel-good" tech that gives a false impression of security in my opinion.

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