Thursday, September 18, 2014

Apple Watch doesn't need Touch ID - killer feature

When Apple Watch was announced last week, like many I was surprised that it didn't include the Touch ID fingerprint security first revealed in the iPhone 5S. But it doesn't need it; and this could be key to awesome value from the Apple Watch. A killer feature.

We know that the Apple Watch will need to be unlocked, authenticated, once each day. But that it'll remain unlocked as long as it's on your wrist. However we don't know how it gets unlocked. Tapping in a passcode on the watch screen would be a step backwards after Touch ID.

Here's a better plan: we know the Watch needs an iPhone. Place it on your wrist for the first time that day and let the watch communicate with your nearby iPhone for you to confirm your identity, ideally with Touch ID rather than a passcode. Then let the iPhone confirm who you are back to the Watch and it can remain unlocked so long as you keep it on your wrist. Great.

But it gets better: once the Watch knows it's securely on your wrist the authentication can go the other way: the Watch can unlock each of your Apple devices (and selected other smart objects, like door locks or cars...) Imagine your iPad or Mac or iPhone just being ready to use without any login. Each device would stay that way, so long as you and your Watch are within Bluetooth range. Step away from your device and it'll automatically lock. Options in the setup would let you choose to get an alert from the Watch if you walked away from your iPhone or iPad. Another option would allow for your devices to lock when you're out of range and automatically unlock as soon as you return.

Combine this ease of use with Keychain Access that supplies unique, complex passwords and other info for websites and suddenly Apple has solved the problem of re-use of insecure username and password combinations. It'd be a massive leap in usability. A true killer feature that would make owning an Apple Watch almost a no-brainer. And, as Tim Cook said of Apple Pay, it's "something only Apple can do!"

All the pieces are in place, just as soon as Apple Watch becomes available. The only other thing is to write the software to enable this. But we know that the security infrastructure is in place with Touch ID on the iPhone; combined with the secure communication between Apple devices using Bluetooth Low Energy and other protocols...
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