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Open sesame: How iOS 8 will unlock Touch ID's power

Marco Tabini | July 23, 2014
As iOS 8--and, presumably, new iPhone and iPad hardware--approaches its release day, big changes are on the horizon for Apple's Touch ID, a technology that has been met with less enthusiasm than it deserves.

As iOS 8 — and, presumably, new iPhone and iPad hardware — approaches its release day, big changes are on the horizon for Apple's Touch ID, a technology that has been met with less enthusiasm than it deserves.

In an attempt to set the record straight, here's a Q&A that gives you all the information you need to start appreciating just how much this technology could improve your daily life — and all with nothing more than the touch of a finger.

What is Touch ID again?

It's a new technology, first launched with the iPhone 5s, that uses a fingerprint reader in your handset to allow iOS to unlock certain functionality when you touch the Home button; as long as you use a finger whose characteristics you've previously registered. Macworld contributor Rich Mogull has all the info you need on how the sensor works.

Why should I care?

According to various surveys, the vast majority of users never lock their phones with a passcode. This is not a big deal if you spend most of your time at home, but it becomes more of a problem if you're out all day or travel often, and your handset finds itself within reach of potential criminals. Many thieves can snatch your phone and gain access to all your private data before you can realize what's happened and disable the handset with Find My Phone.

Touch ID is a replacement for passcode that doesn't require remembering a potentially long series of numbers and letters, and can be used without looking at your screen — which is exactly what you'd want most when you're out and about.

What's happening to Touch ID in iOS 8?

In iOS 7, Touch ID can only be used to unlock your iPhone and make purchases from the App Store. With the launch of the next version of its mobile operating system, Apple is extending the same functionality to third-party apps, making it possible for you to use your finger in lieu of a login and password for many other services and apps.

This is how it's going to work: iOS allows apps to store secure data, like, say, the username and password you use to access an online service, in a special area of the operating system's keychain, where it is protected using a very strong form of encryption and normally locked using your passcode.

Starting with iOS 8, you will be able to use Touch ID to grant an app access to the keychain, thus avoiding having to remember all sorts of different passwords, while still retaining a high degree of security.

In fact, there's a good argument to be made that this arrangement is potentially much more secure than traditional credentials, because, since you won't have to remember your passwords, you will be able to pick combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols as complex and abstruse as you like, making your accounts that much harder to hack.

 

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