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Home / Features / 9 genius uses for the iPhone 5S’ Touch ID fingerprint sensor

9 genius uses for the iPhone 5S’ Touch ID fingerprint sensor

You can have these, Apple. For a fee

The Touch ID sensor in the iPhone 5S is one impressive piece of tech.

This capacitive, sapphire crystal-covered fingerprint scanner-cum-home button reads under your skin at a resolution of up to 500ppi. It can store five digits, in an apparently unhackable portion of the 5S’ A7 chip.

And what does it use this magical technology for? Unlocking. Oh, and making iTunes purchases. That’s like using Deep Blue to work out your remaining holiday allowance.

We have an inkling its full potential will be unlocked, and soon. So go on, Apple, open your Touch ID secrets up to developers, and let’s see some of the following…

Use Touch ID to shop in real shops

Apple iPhone 5S

Combined with tills equipped with Apple’s Bluetooth iBeacons tech, Touch ID could negate the need for Apple to embrace the NFC that everyone’s barking it should have adopted years ago. iBeacons lets iOS 7 devices talk to low-power Bluetooth ‘beacons’ dotted about the place, which could be used for various applications, including indoor navigation, serving location-based information (great for museums) and payments. Your phone could hook up to a till, the till could send it the bill, and if all’s tickety-boo, you touch your Touch ID sensor to say “yes, I will buy a kilo of kumquats and three fluid ounces of ouzo.”

Likelihood-osity: 8/10 Apple needs some form of payment system to rival NFC, and this could be even better.

Use Touch ID to unlock with other body parts

As Ross Presly, Stuff’s deputy art editor, suggests, perhaps Touch ID could scan other parts of the body. “If it took a print of my nose I could actually use the phone while I’m wearing gloves”.

Likelihood-osity: 3/10 Noses don’t have prints. Toes do, mind you.

Allowing different digits to open different iOS profiles

Apple iPhone 5S

Wouldn’t it be cool if iOS could adapt what’s made available based on whose digit logs into it, like the LG G2‘s guest mode? As Marc McLaren, Stuff’s production editor, suggests, “When my daughters touch it they could get educational apps and games but not Twitter or the web or my porn collection.” And perhaps their fingerprints wouldn’t have sufficient rights to buy new episodes of Postman Pat on iTunes, either.

Esat Dedezade, staff writer, reckons, “If you could set up a different profile for different fingers of your own, you could adapt the phone’s behaviour with a touch. So middle finger might be meeting mode, which silences ringtones, notifications and the like.”

Likelihood-osity: 5/10 iOS would need an overhaul to make any of this happen. And it’s only just had one, hasn’t it.

Using Touch ID as a booze monitor

Apple iPhone 5S

Stuff deputy editor Tom Wiggins posits, “How about an app that detects how drunk you are based on the alcohol seeping out of your fingertips? If you’re too pissed it prevents you from using social media.”

Likelihood-osity: 1/10 It doesn’t work like that. Sadly.

Use it for web authentication

Apple iPhone 5S

One sensible use of Touch ID would be for it to securely access any passwords you have stored away, like Mac OS X’s keychain or apps such as 1Password. “You could use it to sign into online banking and a range of other websites and services, like Amazon and eBay”, says Lucy Hedges.

Likelihood-osity: 9/10 We bet 1Password’s developers are chomping at the bit to make this a possibility.

Different digits = different apps

Apple iPhone 5S

If you could assign different apps to different digits, using an iPhone could become faster still. Index finger for phone dialling, little finger for Spotify, and as Simon Osborne-Walker, editor of Stuff magazine suggests, “I’d have a finger on each hand (guess which) that automatically tweets to South West or Southern trains respectively to tell them they’re useless, while simultaneously sending a text to my wife that the train’s running late.”

Likelihood-osity: 7/10 An app per finger should be simple enough… though Simon’s suggestion would take some extra development time.

Multi-tap text input

Apple iPhone 5S

Says Will Dunn, Stuff’s news editor, “If it was quick enough to recognise multiple taps from different fingers, it could be used for a new and hugely inefficient typing system.”

Likelihood-osity: 4/10 Typing is probably out, but we guess setting actions based on combinations of taps isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

Controlling the connected home

Apple iPhone 5S

Touch ID could be used to add an extra layer of much-needed security to the burgeoning automated home. Imagine being able to unlock your front door and deactivate your home’s alarm with a touch. Or as Esat Dedezade suggests, “maybe it could even unlock or start your car.”

Likelihood-osity: 8/10 If Apple has a way of giving apps access to Touch ID without actively sharing your fingerprints, this is all theoretically possible: Unikey’s Kevo deadbolt is unlockable via iPhone, Philips Hue bulbs are already controlled via app, and you can even toot rental ZipCars’ horns with their app.

This little piggy…

Stephen Graves, Stuff.tv’s deputy editor, would like to see a developer take up the mantle by creating a nursery rhyme app. Thumb: “This little piggy went to market.” Forefinger: “This little piggy stayed at home”. Etc.

Likelihood-osity: 6/10 Who knows what will be possible when Apple puts Touch ID in the iOS dev kit?

Profile image of Will Findlater Will Findlater Contributing Editor


Will is a contributing editor and ex-Editor-in-Chief of Stuff. He's been here a while: since 2004, in fact. Things have changed a fair bit since then, although he still gets ribbed for his ongoing respect for 'pioneering' Windows Mobile PDAs. He lives in hope that a new gadget will some day emerge that excites him as much as his Amiga did when he was nine. (The iPhone came pretty close.)

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