This is how it will work…


Apple has been mocked for providing a gimmick on its new phone: the fingerprint-reader button. I don’t think it’s a gimmick at all but the next stage in the phone-as-multi-tool revolution.

Have you got an Oyster card or contact-less bank card? You know how non-secure they are, don’t you? Even sensible trustworthy retailers have had problems with them: people were paying with one card but their contact-less card got too close to the reader and the shop charged the wrong card or both in some circumstances. Would you want to have your contact-less credit card nicked? Ever lost your Oyster card when it’s had credit left on it? Do you use auto top-up?

Enter the humble mobile phone. I had an idea for a payments system earlier in the year. Instead of paying by card in a shop you would have been able to scan a barcode with your phone which would link to the payment site (probably quite similar to Paypal). Once you had confirmed on your phone that the barcode linked to the correct transaction, by checking the details of the transaction on your phone screen, you would have been asked to enter a PIN or password. The payment system software would take the money from your designated account and then told the shop that the transaction was complete.

The things which I thought could be improved were

1) getting the transaction data to the phone – scanning barcodes is a bit rubbish on a phone camera, I have found;

2) authentication security – bank cards are not particularly secure but this phone-based system would be no better: why would people be encouraged to stop using their bank card if my system was no more secure?

Enter the new iPhone.

Apple apparently has developed a tweak on the Bluetooth system. I don’t know the details but I imagine they have tweaked for the purpose of improving accuracy and security at very close range.

The fingerprint-scanning button could sort out the security bit. Banks have been struggling for decades with the issue of how to ensure that a card that is being presented belongs to the person doing the presenting. Signature strips, the suggestion of printing photos on the cards, chip and PIN, the list goes on. Imagine if a shopper had to confirm their fingerprint! Imagine if nobody could steal from you without first stealing your warm thumb!

I think this new iPhone could be a game-changer.


34 Responses to “This is how it will work…”

  1. 1 Mick Anderson
    13 September, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    “Apple apparently has developed a tweak on the Bluetooth system”

    This is so they can charge a licence fee to developers in order to let devices to connect with an iSomething using BlueTooth – you only need to read the datasheets for developing BlueTooth modules to realise this. It’s the same principle as refusing to support Java, and forcing all downloads through the App Store; simple control freakery, and I entirely understand why they do it.

    Apple do only two things well – beautiful cosmetic design, and persuading people to keep giving them money. That’s why I don’t buy their products or develop systems that connect to them.

    • 13 September, 2013 at 7:42 pm

      Hi Mick, thanks for commenting. First time commenter at BE Towers!

      Do I detect a hint of Apple-cynicism? As you point out, nobody is forced to buy in to the Apple system. Which is why all the hysterical anti-Apple rhetoric you see around the place is OTT IMHO.

      I don’t know the details of the Bluetooth system, but if what you say is true there is nothing to stop Samsung or HTC creating a similar system with current standard Bluetooth. What are you scared of, exactly?

      The reason I rate the Apple biosphere is exactly why you seem to hate it. Android is, due to its very openness, open to malware. Because Apple keep close control on its system, it can be trusted a lot more. It is no coincidence that banks offered iPhone internet banking apps long before they did Android internet banking apps. But that is a discussion for another time, perhaps.

      • 3 Mick Anderson
        14 September, 2013 at 6:53 am

        “The reason I rate the Apple biosphere is exactly why you seem to hate it”

        Not hate it, just don’t need/use it. As I said, I understand why they have gone down that route – that’s their commercial decision, and I wouldn’t be suprised if it’s challenged in Court one day by some envious corporation…. They are trying to avoid all the support calls from people running badly written functions by being able to pre-approve them, and managed to have kept the lid on the tin.

        I use an old, crappy Nokia slide phone which isn’t even new enough to run Symbian. If I want to connect a device to it with BlueTooth I could, but haven’t had the need to. I did have a PDA phone (hate the phrase “Smartphone”) a little while ago (because of a project) and found it wasn’t terribly good either as a PDA or a phone.

        My normal comment is that I’m not a fan of fruit and electronics in general. Apple, Blackberry, Apricot, Tulip, Vanilla (stretching the point)…. So far, whenever I’ve needed a hand-held display (with or without a touchscreen) I’ve either ended up developing the whole device, or needed to use a laptop for the extended functions.

        Certainly, when clients ask me about that sort of function they are generally waving an iPhone around. I suspect that Apple attacts the sort of owners who would like to be able to develop their own stuff, even when they don’t have the skills. Perhaps this is self-feeding, causing the Apps to be aimed at Apple first. Egg -vs- Chicken.

        Regarding how the fingerprint reader works, my guess is that it’s a mini camera with a wide angle lens. You can make a much more accurate image than with a wipe-over system.

  2. 4 Bill Quango MP
    13 September, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    The fingerprint I.d. system was being trialed in the UK just before the chip and pin revolution.
    The card owner supplied a fingerprint onto a post it note that was attached to the retailers receipt.
    The ink was washable.

    Banks were offering a discounted interest rate to get people to use it. I can’t remember why my company was trailing it. Probably a bung.. Anyway..it was rubbish. No one wanted to leave their fingerprints.

    Chip and pin was far better.

    But, if the PIN number was replaced by a fingerprint … As you say ..game changer.
    Your phone won’t work without your print. ( Or until the russkie and chinese kids have cracked them) Your card number is your finger swipe or retina scan.
    People won’t like it much…I checked the contact less payment log the other day. Not even 1% of transactions are contact less.
    But.. Bring back those lower interest rate or nectar point incentives and who knows

    • 13 September, 2013 at 7:38 pm

      The system you described (I had not heard of it) sounds rubbish – it’s replacing the signature with a thumb print on the till receipt – very analogue. The point about the system I describe is that the retailer and bank never get their hands (sorry) on your fingerprint. You authenticate with your phone, the phone tells iBank that it is indeed you who is authorising the transaction and iBank tells the retailer that it’s OK.

      The weakness with chip and pin, that someone can clone your card and watch you entering your pin, is gone. Yes, this new system could be hacked, but anything can get hacked if you try hard enough.

  3. 6 Scrobs
    25 September, 2013 at 5:27 am

    Interesting that someone’s hacked one after only a day or so…

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