TouchID doesn’t always recognize prints, leaving users to create workarounds. Is that OK?

November 21, 2013 - 

If your iPhone 5S doesn’t work the way it should, what do you do?

If you were anyone but an iUser, you could build your own fix, find someone who already has and learn from them, or you might even go out and get a new device – one that works.

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been numerous reports of troubles with the TouchID sensor and there’s a new report about a workaround that supposedly makes the 5S Touch ID sensor work better. To me, this isn’t acceptable and is something that desperately needs to be addressed. Especially if the industry wants to see biometrics in consumer devices hit a critical mass of adoption.

I’ve owned many devices from Apple over the years and they’ve all been pretty good. I have a lot of respect for the reliability of these devices and admiration for the market share the company has managed to capture in the last decade. We’re talking about going from niche devices for academics and nerds to the must-have piece of technology year-over-year. It’s hard to think of a technological device you use every day that hasn’t been massively influenced by the Apple.

But I’m not currently a user – I made the jump to Android and PC years ago and I’m thrilled with the setup I have today.

This company definitely knows what it’s doing, but nothing’s perfect – especially in early iterations. Remember when holding the iPhone 4 the wrong way meant you’d drop your calls?

In particular, there has been a lot of chatter about the new iPhone 5S. It includes a fingerprint sensor and has been heralded by some as the first major leap for consumer biometrics, but not by everyone.

As we’ve reported previously, this device is incredibly proprietary (as Apple products always are), it’s not incredibly secure (though that’s arguably not the point of the sensor) and now there are reports that it’s not working as well as it could be.

For example, some people have reported that the Touch ID scanner has a hard time reading their prints or that it only works ‘half of the time.’

There needs to be some lenience here for these problems, as fingerprint scanners are known to be stumped by physical limitations (dry fingers, moist fingers, worn-down prints etc.), but subdermal scanning should correct some of this. And it’s likely the iPhone 5S addresses many of these issues as best it can in this regard.

Not to mention, the Touch ID employs an adaptive style of fingerprint sensing that improves the more you use the scanner. This is pretty typical today, but is something that was expected to piss off some customers.

Apple is also one of the first major manufacturers to launch a device with a fingerprint scanner and it deserves credit for that. Not to mention these early devices with biometric sensors are bound to run into some unexpected issues. After all, everyone else in the market gets the benefit of learning from their mistakes.

Fair enough.

The Huffington Post has published an article today explaining a “quick trick” to improve the effectiveness of the Touch ID and it involves scanning the same finger over and over again instead of registering separate prints from separate fingers – in other words, using the device in a way that it wasn’t intended to be used.

By no fault of the writer of the article or those who came up with this workaround, this is like suggesting that if your car isn’t braking effectively, you can just carry around a boat anchor to throw out the window when you come to red lights.

I don’t have an iPhone 5S, but if I did, this would anger me as a user. Even with all of the deserved hardware lenience in mind, this sounds like a software issue and is something that needs to be fixed, or at the very least, acknowledged.

According to the HuffPo article, Apple has so far remained mum on the subject and hasn’t publicly addressed this workaround.

Since Apple locks its users in its own ecosystem as restrictively as it does and its users are complicit with this system, that’s fine and is between Apple and its users.

That being said, if users are restricted from building their own patches and finding outside resources to affect change themselves, Apple has a responsibility to fill this gap.  Users need to demand that problems like this are addressed, not just create workarounds to make their devices work better.

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About Adam Vrankulj

Adam Vrankulj is an editor for BiometricUpdate.com. His background consists of online news writing, editing and content marketing. Adam has written for CBCNews.ca, BlogTO and was the editor and curator for the nextMEDIA and CIX Source publications. He has a degree in journalism and is passionate about science, technology and social innovation. Contact Adam, or follow him at @adamvrankulj