News: After 5 Years, Touch ID Is About to Get Read Its Last Rites

After 5 Years, Touch ID Is About to Get Read Its Last Rites

RIP Touch ID. Apple's fingerprint sensor on iPhone and iPad models with Home buttons is about to become phased out on Wednesday, Sept. 12. While Touch ID will remain an integral part of models from the iPhone 5S to the iPhone 8 Plus, as well as the iPad Air 2 through the sixth generation iPad, Face ID will completely take over as the default security method for unlocking future iOS devices.

Touch ID was revealed exactly five years ago, on Sept. 10, 2013, when Apple showed off the iPhone 5S. It was an immediate hit among those wanting more security than a simple passcode could offer. Before Touch ID was released, the default passcode was four numeric digits, which could only has one in 10,000 odds of being cracked. There was support for more complex, alphanumeric passwords ever since iOS 4 in 2010, but for most of us, that's just too much work to unlock our devices.

The iPhone 5S and its Home button with Touch ID built in. Image by Nelson Aguilar/Gadget Hacks

With the new Touch ID fingerprint scanner built into the Home button of the iPhone 5S, unlocking an iPhone no longer required remembering anything. Just place one of your registered fingertips on the biometric scanner, and you're instantly able to read emails, chat it up in Messages, or play the hottest new game out.

The chances of someone successfully breaking into your iPhone were lessened from one in 10,000 to one in 50,000, thanks to Touch ID. Yes, that's a lot more secure, but when hackers think about cracking passwords, those odds are still nice. Fingerprint databases can be hacked just like a database full of passwords, and copying a fingerprint isn't the hardest thing to do, especially in the world of 3D printers.

Apple eventually upped the four-digit numeric passcode to six numeric digits in iOS 9, two years after Touch ID was unveiled; This decreased the chances of someone cracking the code to one in a million. That gave users a more secure option, though it wasn't any more convenient than Touch ID or even a four-digit passcode. But it was there for those with valuable info stored on their devices.

Still, on its quest to make unlocking an iPhone as easy as possible while still maintaining security, Apple came up with Face ID on the iPhone X. With this, there was no need for Touch ID or even a Home button anymore, and it has the same odds as a six-digit numeric passcode: one in a million.

The top of the iPhone X display, where the notch is just barely visible with the screen off. Image by Justin Meyers/Gadget Hacks

Face ID uses a TrueDepth camera system on the front of the iPhone, which includes an infrared camera, flood illuminator, and dot projector. These components, as well as the software needed to read the results, enables an iPhone to detect and analyze faces with great accuracy — regardless of lighting conditions and obstructions such as facial hair and eyeglasses.

While I first switched over to an iPhone X, I thought the worst thing would be the lack of a Home button. Facial recognition itself was a game changer for a smartphone (unlike some Android devices that rely on flat scans that can be easily fooled with a photo), but I was used to the Home button and Touch ID. Very quickly, thanks to Face ID's ease of use, I forgot about the Home button as well as Touch ID.

Face ID is just as easy to use as Touch ID ever was, if not more convenient, and the only downside is the resulting notch that takes up a small portion of the screen. But notches are "in" now, and Apple will be revealing three new iPhone models on Sept. 12 at the "Gather Round" event. One will be a low-cost LCD version, while the other two will be the official successors of the iPhone X, with OLED screens. All three will have Face ID and no Home buttons — and therefore no Touch ID.

Even the new iPad model coming out will have Face ID baked in instead of Touch ID, which indicates one thing: after five years of Touch ID, Apple has moved onto to Face ID for good. So, if you want an iOS device with a fingerprint scanner instead of facial recognition, you'll want to keep your old-school iPhone. Yes ... old-school, because when a new tech takes over, the old tech is just dust in the wind.

Requiescat in pace, Touch ID. Long live Face ID.

Face ID in action on the iPhone X, which will take over Touch ID for good. Image by Justin Meyers/Gadget Hacks

But now the question is: What comes after Face ID? Will there be a faster, even more secure way to unlock an iPhone without any real work from the user?

Retinal scans are out since you'd need to place the phone right up to your eye, and your retina can change over time based on factors like disease. Iris recognition would be very similar to Face ID but would require more accurate positioning to scan correctly. More than likely, we'll end up seeing a combination of biometric options such as Face ID with hand or voice recognition. Ultimately, that means that Face ID might outlast Touch ID's reign on iPhone biometrics.

Cover photo by Justin Meyers/Gadget Hacks

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