Apple announced its intention this week to buy AuthenTec for about $355 million.
If approved, the acquisition will bring several things to Apple, including the acceleration of its mobile wallet initiative; good technology for encrypting data and content, such as movies; and patent protection for several areas of mobile security.
The biggest thing Apple gets out of this is probably a strong play for using biometrics for identity in general — for online and brick-and-mortar purchases, for logging into web sites and even for digital signatures.
And it doesn’t hurt that taking AuthenTec out of the game as an independent company will be devastating to nearly all of Apple’s biggest competitors, including Google and its Android partners, and Microsoft and its OEM hardware partners.
How Can Apple Use AuthenTec?
Everybody’s still waiting for Apple’s mobile wallet initiative. I still believe they’re going to make a big push for using Bluetooth 4.0 as an alternative to or as an addition to NFC for mobile payments.
AuthenTec technology would help Apple offer a system that’s secure, even over something as inherently insecure as Bluetooth. The store would know that the customer is really you, and you would know that the only one you’re giving your money to is the store, not the creepy weirdo in the bathroom using his laptop.
I also think very strong security for digital content like movies is part of Apple’s pitch to Hollywood in the securing of partnerships. If Apple can give studios and others a compelling revenue stream, plus good assurances that pirates won’t be able to copy or download versions of high-quality iTunes movies without paying for them, they’ll be in a much better bargaining position to convince a reluctant industry to embrace video on demand with its best and most recent movies and TV shows.
AuthenTec also shores up a weakness in the identity racket. One of the things a social network like Facebook or Google+ gives a company is a platform for identity. How do people online and in the real world know you are really you? The social network companies want to be the answer. That’s why they’re all pushing for real names and authenticated accounts.
But Apple, using AuthenTec technology, could provide an even better answer, which would link your fingerprint with your Apple account or, say, your iPhone in a way that’s even more of a positive ID than showing a driver’s license.
Apple has already announced Passbook, a feature coming in iOS 6. The service sounds great, but it needs both the kind of strong encryption and positive ID capabilities that AuthenTec specializes in.
And finally, Apple is really making headway in the corporate and enterprise markets. But it’s doing so with consumer-grade security. AuthenTec can help Apple convince huge companies to embrace iOS products in a big way.
Why Apple’s Competitors Are Feeling Insecure
Less than two weeks before Apple’s announcement that it would acquire AthenTec, Samsung announced its official selection of AuthenTec’s QuickSec VPS security for all new Android smartphones and tablets.
AuthenTec fingerprint sensors are the standard among Apple’s competitors, including Acer, Dell, Lenovo, ASUS, Samsung, Toshiba and others.
AuthenTec is, or was, totally in bed with HP, and offers as one of their core products something called HP SimplePass, which is the fingerprint solution used on all HP notebooks that have fingerprint readers, and includes the hardware, software and authentication service.
Another product called DataDefender is used for Android devices for password protecting individual apps. The company says it’s being used by a million people.
AuthenTec TrueSuite is the leading fingerprint software for the Windows platform. It’s designed to allow fingerprint swiping as a replacement for passwords.
Yes, all these companies can find alternative vendors. But it’s a huge pain in the ass, and will cost time and money.
Overall, the AuthenTec acquisition looks like a real win for Apple.