July 28, 2012: Apple buys biometrics company AuthenTec, acquiring the technology that will power future authentication and secure payments initiatives.
With a price tag of $356 million, the deal gives Apple the right to use AuthenTec hardware, software and patents. In the short term, Apple engineers start working to build Touch ID sensors into the iPhone 5s. Longer-term, AuthenTec’s mobile wallet tech paves the way for Apple Pay.
iPhone fingerprint sensor: A long time in the making
Although the dream of using fingerprint sensors on smartphones had been around for a while, AuthenTec’s technology didn’t work quite as planned at first. Speaking in 2013, company co-founder F. Scott Moody recalled how an early demo for IBM went wrong in the worst possible way: It mistook IBM’s chief technology officer for the other AuthenTec co-founder.
However, once changes were made and a final product was exhibited, it didn’t take long for companies including Motorola, Fujitsu and Apple to make overtures regarding a potential buyout. Apple ultimately won.
Nonetheless, Motorola actually beat Apple to the marketplace by two years when its Mobility Atrix 4G shipped with a fingerprint sensor in 2011. But while Motorola’s technology worked reasonably well, it proved less than intuitive. The fingerprint scanner resided on the phone’s back. And users needed to swipe it rather than simply touch it for authentication.
AuthenTec tech makes Touch ID better
Apple’s Touch ID solution, on the other hand, wasn’t just secure. It proved very speedy as well — considerably quicker and easier than tapping in even a short, four-digit PIN.
“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 websites and even for digital signatures,” Cult of Mac wrote at the time of the AuthenTec acquisition.
Touch ID arrived on the iPhone 5s in 2013, used initially only to unlock the handset. A year later, for the launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple expanded Touch ID’s usefulness. Suddenly the fingerprint sensor worked to authenticate iTunes and App Store purchases via Apple Pay.
Touch ID and the future of Apple biometrics
With the launch of Face ID, the facial recognition feature Apple rolled out in 2017 with the iPhone X, it seems the days of Touch ID are largely at an end. (Although Touch ID lives on with the current iPhone SE.) Nonetheless, the technology kick-started the era of biometric security systems at Apple — and will definitely be remembered because of that.
What did you think of Touch ID the first time you saw or used it? Are you happy that it’s been replaced on newer iPhones? Leave your comments and recollections below.