The following article was originally published in October 2016 and is reprinted here with minor changes to the text.
Late last year, Apple finally brought Touch ID biometrics to its MacBook Pro, making good on longstanding rumors that the fingerprint scanning functionality was coming to the laptop in order to take advantage of Apple Pay on the web. The MacBook Pro isn’t the first laptop to feature an embedded fingerprint sensor – Lenovo has had notebooks launch this year with touch sensors – and it won’t be the last either. In Fingerprint Cards’ Q3 2016 update, company CEO Christian Fredrikson strongly implied that the Swedish fingerprint sensor manufacturer is looking to expand into the PC market, having already successfully established itself as a leader in the mobile device biometric sensor integrations. But the personal computer is far from the final frontier for consumer biometrics. Anywhere that convenience is desired and strong security is needed, biometrics can be applied to make life easier and safer for consumers.
Here are three potential consumer applications in need of a biometric authentication upgrade now that fingerprint sensors are poised to become mainstream on laptops.
While Apple did announce a Siri update at its October keynote, the AI assistant’s new Apple TV functionality isn’t what the handsfree interface software really needs. Sure, Siri can tell you all about the sports you love, but if you’re watching the game and are inspired to buy something thanks to an advertisement, heading to your device can often seem like chore. A hands free shopping option is starting to seem both obvious and strangely absent in this age of mCommerce. With all of Siri’s bells and whistles and intuition, it’s frustrating that you can’t say, “Siri, buy a plane ticket using my Mastercard,” and have that transaction authenticated by the unique biometric characteristics of your voice.
Siri does have speaker recognition, and is able to differentiate multiple users, but at this point, she can’t authenticate financial transactions (which is the most popular consumer biometrics use case aside from unlocking a phone). This technology isn’t that far off, either. At the Money20/20 2016 conference in Las Vegas, Enacomm announced EVA, an AI banking assistant that uses voice biometrics to authenticate users, and voice biometric authentication is already a mainstay on many banking and payment apps while also being used in phone banking situations for caller verification. From where we are now, it seems like it’s only one small step before the voices in our phones can financially transact on our behalf, assured of our identity by the sounds of our voices.
During the advent of the current generation of console gaming – which encapsulates the Microsoft XBox One and Sony’s Playstation 4 – there were rumblings that fingerprint sensors were going to be embedded in video game controllers in order to authenticate user profile login and online purchases. Sadly, such an innovation never materialized. The consoles in question launched before Apple Pay and Samsung Pay had normalized the concept of a biometrically enabled mobile wallet, and so video game players who prefer to shop online are still stuck saving their payment information on their gaming systems for easy access to anyone playing in their profile who wants to make a microtransaction, buy some premium downloadable content, or drop over a hundred dollars on a preorder in the online marketplace.
By allowing for biometric authentication on the home console, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo would be enabling the convenience players demand in their precious free time while also securing sensitive account information and adding a layer of assurance to online player interactions. In the same way that mobile transactions are prone to abandonment when users are asked to enter account info on sorely outmoded UI, gamers are restricted to what must be the least intuitive input method out there: Using a game controller to navigate a virtual QWERTY keyboard and enter credit card info, is a massive pain. A biometric sensor can fix that. Ensuring a player is who she says she is online also has its benefits in online leader board ranking, and when it comes to securing personal info, biometrics beat out passwords, easily.
With Nintendo set to launch its next console hardware in the spring, we’re slowly making our way into a next console generation. Let’s hope it’s biometric this time.
Smartwatches need security, especially if they are ever going to stand alone, untethered from a companion smartphone. Loaded with NFC capability, connectivity, and streamlined with ergonomic and aesthetic design, the potential housed in a smartwatch is very exciting. But as of yet, the closest thing mainstream wearables have to biometric authentication lies in their interface and fitness tracking tech. Voice command and vital signal monitoring are the biometrics you most commonly find on today’s smartwatches, neither of which, in the forms presented on smartwatches, are capable of authenticating a user. But that might be changing come the next generation of smart wristbands.
Biometric authentication is coming to the smartwatch, but the question is: how? Which modality will it be ensuring you are who you claim to be when you put on that hi-tech accessory? Voice biometrics is an obvious candidate, and if the devices start to come with embedded cameras facial recognition makes sense too, as both modalities are contactless and convenient. But patents filed by Apple and Samsung have other modalities poised to make things a little more interesting. Apple has a patent for a novel type of vascular bimetrics that might make its way onto a future Apple Watch. And another elegant solution is on the table too, with Samsung having recently received a patent for cardiac biometric authentication on its smartwatch. Possibly the most intuitive modality for a wristband, cardiac biometrics are capable of offering persistent strong authentication for a wearer based on the unique biometrics of their heart. While the modality isn’t in a mainstream smartwatch yet, Toronto-based startup Nymi has pioneered the technology in its own Nymi Band device, which has made a great impression on the financial services and enterprise sectors.
With biometrics coming to PCs now, we are starting to see strong authentication making its way to all of our connected touch-points. There’s still a long way to go before we can count on strong authentication every way we interact with the Internet, but the above applications are good next steps toward a future of secure and convenient consumer living.