This year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) wrapped up last Friday in San Francisco, and one of the key highlights of the key annual global conference for developers involved mobile payments.
Along with some other changes involving the upgrade to its new iOS8 mobile operating system, Apple announced that it would open its “Touch ID” fingerprint authentication technology to outside developers.
Currently, Touch ID can only be used by iPhone users to unlock their phones and to make purchases from Apple’s own App and iTunes stores. From now, third-party mobile payment (and banking) apps will theoretically be able to substitute users’ fingerprints for login credentials or mPINs. This will not only take out much of the “friction” of making mobile payments, but in many cases will make them more secure, as far too many consumers rely on woefully weak passwords and mPINs.
Given the lack of any new hardware unveilings or other major announcements, the tech press set on the opening of Touch ID with typical “here’s what’s new at Apple!” enthusiasm, and with a range of responses. While Business Insider breathlessly claimed that the move essentially “fixed” the most important problems slowing the spread of mobile payments, Re/code more modestly called it a “first small step” in Apple’s own plans to become a mobile payments hub.
Our view falls somewhere in the middle. For sure, the added convenience and security offered by biometric authentication technologies like Touch ID could represent a critical breakthrough in terms of consumer behavior. And it won’t hurt to have Apple encouraging its millions of users – with their nearly 1 billion credit cards on file at Cupertino – pushing the cause of mobile payments.
But there are also good reasons not to overplay this story.
First, as we noted earlier this year, it is hugely unlikely that Apple will ever “own” the mobile payments space.
And beyond that, it is not even clear that fingerprints will end up owning the biometric authentication space.
One of Samsung’s most notable mobile flops is its own fingerprint reader, a failure which may lead the company to focus instead on what can be done with its phones’ existing hardware.
“With a built-in high-resolution camera scanning the users’ face, it may be that facial recognition or even the identification of eye veins may be a better way to identify users,” says Cellum CEO János Kóka.