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New! Improved!

Touch ID is the defining feature of the iPhone 5s

The latest iteration of the iPhone has been unveiled, and while many of the improvements to the iPhone 5s are incremental, the addition of a fingerprint sensor to the home button may be the defining feature. The sensor unlocks your phone with a touch and can be used in place of a password to buy apps, music, and movies through Apple. Fingerprint sensors are nothing new, so why is the one in the iPhone 5s notable?

What is Touch ID?

Apple is calling the new fingerprint sensor Touch ID. Replacing the concave home button of older iPhones, Touch ID is comprised of an image sensor, sapphire-crystal lens, and a metal ring, which all work together to scan and recognize a user's fingerprint.

After setting up Touch ID, the iPhone will remember your unique fingerprint and allow you to quickly unlock your phone with a touch. The sensor can read your fingerprint at any angle and Touch ID can store multiple fingerprints, though it isn't yet clear if you can add trusted friends and family who might need to access the phone.

Security
The Touch ID is designed first and foremost as a security measure. As we route most of our communication, money transactions, and important passwords through our smartphones, the security of that information is a priority. While most people use simple four-digit pins which can be easily cracked or even spied on, a fingerprint is less prone to bypassing or faking.

Apple also made it clear that they are not going to share your fingerprints with anybody -- including Apple. The fingerprints will be stored and encrypted on the iPhone 5s chip itself, and not sent to iCloud or shared with third parties (at least for now). It's up to you to believe that our government also won't have the ability to access it as well.

Convenience


If you were to ask people who don't use a security lock why they don't, chances are they'd say it's because of the inconvenience of using one. Typing something as simple as a four-digit pin code adds time to unlocking a phone. And passwords, though longer and thus more secure, add even more time and require us to remember yet another password.

It might seem like a trivial problem, but it's a common one nonetheless. Some of the tasks we use our phone for like answering a text or taking a picture only take a few seconds to do, and a password that tacks on another four or five gets annoying. The Touch ID makes it way easier. The whole process takes a split second and requires virtually no attention to do so.

What does this mean for me?


Aside from the added element of security and convenience the Touch ID may not showing its true potential yet. When the iPhone 5s comes out on September 20th, the Touch ID will be capable of making App Store and iTunes Store purchases instead of using your Apple ID password. But while Apple isn't giving Touch ID access to developers yet, a fingerprint sensor could potentially be useful for making online or even in-store purchases, turning your iPhone into a digital wallet.

It may be years until we really know what Touch ID will be capable of, since most iPhone users still don't have access to it. Even the newly-revealed iPhone 5c doesn't have Touch ID, and iPhone users still on contract will also have to wait. For now though, Touch ID is the flagship feature on the iPhone 5s, a fingerprint sensor that promises to make your phone more secure without sacrificing security.