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Posted: 04:07:47 PM, 18/09/2013

iPhone 5[x]: A new name for slow change?

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The first thought I had about iPhone 5S's fingerprint sensor was that it would nicely round out individual data scraped and hacked by government agencies. But I don't care much about that. Perhaps I should, considering news reports that indicate prevalence of act-before-you-think procedures. That's another conversation, however.

What if a hacker got hold of your fingerprint? We leave fingerprints everywhere, but they usually don't get collected for easy distribution or association with a lot of our personal data. Well, at least not outside the agencies we have nominated to keep such data safe.

Apple said they store your fingerprint on the ARM chip, not in the cloud. I think they want to say that the data can only be accessed locally. But if it's at all possible, an engineer somewhere will eventually discover an exploit and use it remotely through an app. Not all of us play nice, you know.

An American talk-show host recently commented that now if they rob you of your new iPhone, they'll want your thumb as well.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to scare you off from buying a perfectly alright piece of electronics. In fact, I've been using a fingerprint sensor on my Lenovo laptop for nearly three years. (Now you can guess which agency probably has my fingerprints.) Nothing bad has happened that I'm aware of. But then I don't keep my bank details on this laptop.

My laptop's sensor is courtesy Authentec, the same company that Apple acquired and I assume is to be credited for iPhone 5S's new security consciousness. In biometrics, the more difficult-to-fool-and-replicate method of finger-vein authentication has been available for a while now here and here . Finger vein authentication has the additional advantage of requiring a finger to be attached to a living person. But I haven't seen anyone reduce the reader to the size and profile needed for a smartphoneyou need to shine a light through your finger.

For slightly bigger profiles, check out EDN Asia's new Design Idea, Finger vein identification lowers cost for biometric system. It's a project by students from the Universiti Sains Malaysia.

OK, this might not be such a big deal but then is there anything that's a big deal about the new iPhone models? I mean other than S = steep and C = cheap [not really]? More colours like Nokia? Better at supporting LTE variants? Maybe.

Well, there may be something in the M7 motion co-processor. Nike's got a health app that will benefit from it. But I think it is the developer community that will exploit the hardware to bring innovation to the iPhone.

To be fair, Apple did just add a couple of suffixes to the older model that's now discontinued. Perhaps they are trying to tell us that it is a gentle evolution not a revolution. We've just been spoiled silly by previous exciting innovations and should expect a more glacial pace from them. Or, I'm in the mood to whine because I'm about to let go of my antique cell phone in favour of an iPhone.

- Vivek Nanda

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