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Comparing the iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner and older technologies

Since Apple unveiled the new Touch ID fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5s a few days ago, the internet has been awash in, frankly, horrible reporting about its ability and consequences. One thing repeated over and over again is that fingerprint readers are buggy, prone to breaking after 500 scans and difficult to use because you have to place your finger on it just right.

And all that is true... for fingerprint readers back in 2003. That's when I first used a fingerprint reader that was built into a Windows laptop. It was horrible. Half the time, the fingerprint reader wouldn't recognize my finger. Some times it would, but only after I swiped it slowly and carefully -- something that took much longer than quickly typing in a password.

But the thing is that since 2003, fingerprint readers have advanced. Heck, they've advanced since 2011. And the one built into the iPhone 5s is the most advanced consumer fingerprint scanner on the market. So if you have any assumptions that the fingerprint reader on the iPhone 5s is like any fingerprint reader you've used in the past, I urge you to check out this awesome piece by Mary Branscombe at CITEworld where she explains in detail why the iPhone's fingerprint sensor is better than the ones on older laptops. The whole article is worth a read, but here's the central gist of it that everyone needs to understand:

With the new sensors you don't have to move your finger, just press it against the reader. And like the sensor in the iPhone 5S, the sensors that will be in laptops and keyboards and other phones can detect the ridge and valley pattern of your fingerprint not from the layer of dead skin on the outside of your finger (which a fake finger can easily replicate), but from the living layer of skin under the surface of your finger, using an RF signal. That only works on a live finger; not one that's been severed from your body.

This will protect you from thieves trying to chop off your finger when they mug you for your phone (assuming they're tech-literate thieves, of course), as well as from people with fake fingers using the fingerprint they lifted from your phone screen.

[via Daring Fireball]

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