I’ve never been the kind of person that waits in line for new Apple kit, due I think mostly to a genetic condition rendering me incapable of waiting in a queue longer than 10 minutes. What I will do unfailingly is go into an Apple Store – smiling at those suckers waiting in line – and poke around at the new stuff to see if it’s compelling enough to make me take the plunge. This time around, I made a beeline for an abandoned 5S at Apple’s Upper West Side store in Manhattan (pro tip: head for the kit scattered among Apple’s other offerings; chumps wait for other people in the iPhone section). Like other “off-year” iPhones like the 3GS and 4S, the 5S isn’t that impressive at first glance. Faster, yes. I heard the camera was better too. But the thing I really wanted to check out was Apple’s fingerprint sensor and its Touch ID app. First, a little about me.
This is my right thumb, which because I’m right-handed, would be the thumb I would use to authenticate with Touch ID. Note the highlighted area. It’s a nasty-assed scar I got when I was 13. I’d call it “bad-assed”, but it involved a mishap with school supplies, which is the opposite of bad-assed. There were questions about the conditions under which the sensor would be able to operate, with scars being one of the things people were concerned about. There was also a question I had personally about the positioning of the finger on the device. The way I figure it, for the feature to be useful, its activation is going to have to be a natural movement to the sensor. 95% of the time, I use my right thumb to press the home button, like so:
In order to demo Touch ID for potential customers, Apple has a demo app on all of its 5S display units. It walks you through the process of recognizing your print and, once complete, simulates an unlock using only the print registered. I placed my thumb on the sensor at the same 45° angle as I would to activate my phone. The demo asks you to incrementally place different parts of the registering digit on the sensor and records your progress by transitioning more and more of a fingerprint icon from red to green. After each step of the registration progress, the phone vibrates if it accepts your input; it will offer advice like”Make sure your whole finger is covering the sensor” if it does not accept it. All told, it took me 16 presses of my thumb on the sensor to completely register my fingerprint. Then came the moment of truth:
I tested my now-registered thumb 15 consecutive times. The feedback was instantaneous – all 15 were accepted, scar and all. I then tried my left index finger: no dice. Right thumb again: accepted. That’s some pretty amazing shit.
I’m personally not shocked that Apple was able to take something as wonky as fingerprint scanning and make its activation straightforward. With applications that will no doubt extend beyond Apple ID authentication and headlong into commerce, from a user standpoint Touch ID stands to be one of the biggest advancements in mobile device security since the passcode.