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Smart card readers for the iPhone and iPad

Joseph Roth | July 11, 2013
Flexible PKard Reader and elegant Tactivo bring smart card authentication to your favorite mobile device

This of course is not the fault of the PKard Reader or Tactivo, but a limitation of iOS and the result of unfortunate website design decisions. DOD sites were designed for the PC, and they may be clunky to use on an iPhone or iPad. As the DOD gets onboard with mobile users surfing its websites, we can only hope that the websites will become less reliant on Flash and Java and more in tune with HTML5 and smaller screen sizes.

Another problem with the DOD's CAC-authenticated websites is that error messages are poor or nonexistent. Logging in to a website will require either the email certificate or the identity certificate. If you enter the wrong one, you will get a nondescript error such as "This page cannot be displayed." Your browser's cache will be corrupted. Refreshing the website will not work. You will have to restart the application and retry the URL, selecting the other certificate to get it to work. The problem is that some DOD websites use the identity certificate and others use the email certificate. If you choose the wrong one, you have to kill the application and try again. Again, it's not the fault of the PKard Reader or Tactivo — it's just bad DOD design.

Tactivo: More elegant, less flexible
Precise Biometrics' Tactivo is designed as a case for the iPhone or iPad, so there are separate models for each. It is very stylish and fits both iOS devices like a glove. The smart card or CAC slides unobtrusively behind the iPad and iPhone, making for comfortable use. The big advantage of the Tactivo, besides its less obtrusive form factor, is its fingerprint reader, which you could use with several free apps to protect files, photos, and passwords with fingerprint authentication. There's also a software development kit you can use to take advantage of this biometric security protection for various authentication applications.

There are a couple of downsides to the Tactivo. First, if you use both an iPad and an iPhone, you'll need to buy two Tactivo devices. Second, the Tactivo is currently available only for the older iPhone 4/4S and iPad models with the 30-pin connector. Precise Biometrics expects to have Lightning-compatible versions of the Tactivo for the iPhone 5 and new iPad models soon. Given that the Tactivo is an enclosure, the Apple Lightning to 30-pin Adapter of course will not work. If you eventually upgrade from an old 30-pin iPhone or iPad to a new Lightning-equipped iPhone or iPad, you'll need to buy a new Tactivo as well.

The Tactivo for the 30-pin iPhone retails for $249, and the Tactivo for the 30-pin iPad retails for $299. A video demo of the Tactivo product can be found on YouTube.


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