30 July 2013

iPhone 5S biometric fingerprint sensor confirmed by iOS 7 leak

The latest build of iOS 7 (beta 4) was released to developers last night, and it seems to confirm that the iPhone 5S’s home button will have a biometric fingerprint reader built-in. The fingerprint reader should allow you to unlock your iPhone 5S, and perhaps auto-fill sensitive data such as passwords and credit card details, by simply placing your thumb on the home button.

Like the plastic iPhone 5C, there has been an oddly persistent rumor that the iPhone 5S or 6 would receive a biometric fingerprint scanner. These rumors originally pointed to a fingerprint reader in the home button or bezel, but then a recent patent filed by Apple suggested that the company had worked out how to put the reader in the screen itself — in other words, the screen would read your fingerprint while you slide to unlock. Now, though, judging by files found in iOS7 beta 4, it sounds like the reader will be within the home button.

The XML that you see above is from the BiometricKitUI, and describes some of the images displayed on-screen when you first enroll (register) your fingers. It sounds like you will simply place your thumb on the home button, a stylized fingerprint will appear on-screen while the reader analyzes your biometric whorls and ridges, and that’s it — you’re registered. You can then unlock your phone by putting your thumb on the home button. No longer will friends and family be able to pick up and peruse your phone — no longer will you have to key in your passcode every time you want to do something!

A question remains over more advanced functionality, though, and also whether the iPhone 5S’s built-in fingerprint reader will have the speed and accuracy that’s expected by Apple users. There are ways of providing fast and accurate fingerprint reading, but whether these will scale down to the size and relatively low price of a smartphone remains to be seen. Cheaper scanners tend to be thin sensors that you swipe your finger over, but the text clearly says that you only “touch” the home button, not swipe. Full-finger scanners are more expensive as they must have the necessary resolution to scan your entire finger in one go — and they also have a tendency to get crudded up, because you’re not constantly cleaning them with a swiping action.

Despite this telltale leak from iOS 7 beta 4, I am still a little bit cynical about whether the iPhone 5S will actually receive a fingerprint reader. This is a brand-new, stand-out feature that you would expect to see on the iPhone 6 — not the iPhone 5S, which should just be a spec-bump. Having said that, Apple has losing ground to Android — in both features and market share — so maybe Apple will surprise us all with a very exciting iPhone 5S indeed. Rounding out the rest of the expected hardware specs, the iPhone 5S is rumored to have an IGZO screen (higher-quality while consuming less power), a 12-megapixel camera with dual-LED xenon flash, NFC, and an updated SoC with a quad-core GPU.


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