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The Apple iPhone 5s fingerprint sensor: what we know

Apple's Touch ID fingerprint reader is one of the big changes on the iPhone 5s, but is it the end for passwords?

Nic Healey Senior Editor / Australia
Nic Healey is a Senior Editor with CNET, based in the Australia office. His passions include bourbon, video games and boring strangers with photos of his cat.
Nic Healey
2 min read
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Unless you've been under a rock all morning, you're probably aware that Apple launched two new iPhones this morning, and that one of them has a built-in fingerprint reader.

Touch ID on the iPhone 5s. (Credit: Apple)

The biometric scanner, called Touch ID, is located under the home button on the front of the iPhone 5s. It's capacitive and just 170 microns thick.

It scans your fingerprint in 500ppi detail, and can perform said scan from 360 degrees, meaning you can use it from any orientation.

It can learn multiple fingerprints, although Apple hasn't given a limit on how many. We'd assume that most users would want just the thumb and forefinger of each hand to be scanned.

Your scan data is stored directly onto the iPhone 5s, rather than any form of cloud storage, and at the moment it only does two things: it can replace your four-digit unlock code and it can authorise iTunes payments.

Weirdly, it looks like that's all it will do for a while. Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller has told AllThingsD that app developers won't get access to Touch ID as a form of authentication. He declined to comment on whether this may change in the future.

The home button.(Credit: Josh Lowensohn/CNET)

Given the potential uses for financial apps such as banking or even PayPal, it seems strange that Apple would be keeping this so closed at the moment. Even stranger is why it can't work with Apple applications such as iCloud or Keychain. We'd be very surprised if this stance didn't change in the future, especially given how much Apple paid for the technology.

Does this make your phone more secure? Well, according to Apple, less than half of iPhone users bother with a PIN lock, so the ease (and, let's be honest, the novelty) of Touch ID might encourage users to set up security for the first time.

Certainly, parents will appreciate the iTunes authorisation to stop kids from making either deliberate or inadvertent purchases when borrowing the iPhone.

Touch ID is undoubtedly an innovative addition to a smartphone, and while we're not sure it would be the sole selling point for the iPhone 5s, it's very hard to fault its addition. Expect to see Android manufacturers following suit in the near future.