Six years after the first Apple iPhone was introduced, Apple has come out with the iPhone 5s. It's not only 40 times faster than the original, but it comes with the first truly mass-market biometrics reader, a fingerprint scanner built into the iPhone’s Home button called “Touch ID.”
Apple’s new iPhone 5s, introduced at a special keynote event on Tuesday, may look very much like its predecessor, the iPhone 5. But under the hood are several major hardware improvements: There’s a much better camera, a new coprocessor for tracking movement and activity, a much faster chip and, of course, the fingerprint sensor.
Security At Your Fingertips
The fingerprint sensor unlocks the phone without having to type in a four-digit passcode. There’s a stainless-steel sensor “ring” around the Home button that can initiate a scan without pressing the Home button. Not only does it unlock the phone, it can be used to make secure online purchases from Apple’s iTunes, App and iBooks online stores. Previously, you’d have to type in your Apple ID passcode, which in my case is a 16-digit combination of letters, number and symbols. It’s a pain.
According to Apple, the fingerprint data never leaves the device. It is processed in a special “Secure Enclave” on the CPU and is never transmitted to Apple’s servers or anywhere else.
Early reports say Touch ID is fast and fabulous. TechCrunch wrote that after the iPhone 5s learns your fingerprint, "it worked flawlessly to unlock the device for every subsequent trial." Previously, fingerprint readers built into laptops were notoriously unreliable, especially after several months of use and abuse.
Touch ID is a boon for business customers because it will help improve mobile security. Apple says only 50 percent of iPhone users currently bother to passcode-protect their devices. That’s a huge security risk for any business. Adding a simple-to-use fingerprint scanner overnight makes enterprise iPhones much safer and more secure.
At the moment, Touch ID is limited to just two things: unlocking the iPhone and verifying purchases from Apple’s online stores. Apple didn’t make any promises about the future, but CEO Tim Cook hinted that Touch ID will eventually be opened up to third-party developers.
If and when Apple opens up Touch ID, everything that requires a username and password today will likely be replaced with a quick swipe of a finger.
There's one hurdle: The iPhone 5s doesn’t appear to contain a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip, which it would need to make it compatible with current point-of-sale card readers and electronic badging devices. Most of the readers used by systems like Google Wallet and wireless touch-to-pay payment cards are based on NFC. There’s no word on whether or not the iPhone 5s contains NFC or not—Apple didn’t mention it during the keynote. If it is missing an NFC chip, Apple may still add it to later devices. There have been several reports of security holes in Android devices equipped with NFC, so the technology might not be ready for primetime just yet.
Although the fingerprint scanner is the big news, there are a few other noteworthy additions that businesspeople especially will be pleased to see.
Faster computing: The iPhone’s custom-made A7 chip is the first 64-bit CPU for smartphones. Previously limited to desktop and laptop computers, 64-bit chips have bigger pipes, accessing more memory, much faster. The A7 makes the iPhone snappier and beefier than competing devices. Apple claims it’s twice as fast as the iPhone 5 and, as I mentioned earlier, an incredible 40 times faster than the original iPhone introduced in 2007. Graphics are also vastly improved, running at 56 times the speed of the first iPhone. All this processing and graphics power makes for better, faster, more sophisticated apps, and makes the iPhone truly a pocket computer.
New iOS 7: iOS 7, a major upgrade to the iPhone’s operating system, will be available as a free download on September 18. iOS 7 contains a host of special features for business users, including an improved Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant, and one-swipe access to settings like Airplane mode and features like the calculator. Your IT guy will also likely embrace new features like mass deployments, per app VPN and enterprise single sign on.
Productivity apps: Apple’s iWork productivity suite is now free with a new iOS device. Previously, apps like Pages (word processing), Keynote (presentations) and Numbers (spreadsheets) were sold a la carte at $10 a pop. Note that Microsoft’s Word and Excel still aren’t available for iOS devices.
The 5S will cost $199 for the 16GB model, $199 for the 32GB model, and $399 for the 64GB version—with a two-year contract. It will be available on September 20.
Read more articles on technology.
Photo: Getty Images