By building fingerprinting technology into its new phone, Apple has moved the goalposts in the way that it usually does - with thought and care, but without giving a final answer.
It has legitimised biometric verification of identity on a personal device; a mainstream audience is now being educated in something, which will, in one way or another, become a standard identification process.
The company has been incredibly smart, building the technology into the phone and making it near impossible to bypass. This is - and if it isn’t, should be - ringing alarm bells in the world of NFC. Because what Apple has done has challenged the future of card payments. Looked at solely from a security point of view, cards are as easily stolen as smartphones but for the average thief it is much harder to lift your fingerprints. With a card they can just spend. And card payment is predominantly the function that NFC will perform in the retail space.
The uptake of biometrics isn’t something that is going to happen tomorrow - the smartphone-as-a-wallet story will undoubtedly take a while to ferment in the mind of consumers, not least for because they will need to be educated about it.
It will take a little while, but, make no mistake, biometrics is the future. Having legitimised a biometrics approach, there are other techniques that are more secure which can now come in to play. Facial recognition (although that can be spoofed) and iris recognition (which is being used in border security and passports and can’t be spoofed) are two examples.
The one that stands out is palm vein, or finger vein technology, which look at characteristics of the vein itself; these do not change from birth to death and are unique to an individual. Palm vein technology is already proven; it is used for access in secure environments (such as hospitals) and is touch free. It is currently being used for financial transactions at ATM’s in Turkey and there is a plan in pilot stage to implement a programme to register the palm vein prints of every individual in Turkey for Government and welfare accreditation.
So, what does this all mean? In the future we will all be our own identifiers, so we won’t have to rely on something being provided by someone else (such as a card). Most importantly, it will remove identification as a barrier, freeing up the customer and the supplier to simply do business. When you couple this move with PayPal’s recent Beacon announcement, you begin to see how the future of retail interaction is changing and how the experience will become more fluid and straight forward, for both consumer and retailer.
David Lowrence is a retail industry consultant at Fujitsu