Touch ID is Apple's revolutionary fingerprint authentication system, but what are Apple's future plans for Touch ID? The iPhone 5s finger sensor could be used for everything from your driver's license to online payments.

Apple's Touch ID Home Button augments your usual four digit passcode with dependable fingerprint authentication. According to Apple’s About Touch ID security page: “Your fingerprint is one of the best passcodes in the world. It's always with you, and no two are exactly alike.”

The Touch ID sensor is a modern piece of engineering. According to Apple “To fit within the Home button, the Touch ID sensor is only 170 microns thin, not much thicker than a human hair. This high-resolution 500 ppi sensor can read extremely fine details of your fingerprint. The button itself is made from sapphire crystal – one of the clearest, hardest materials available.”

Touch ID has two primary uses on the current iPhone 5s. The first is to unlock the iPhone. This is perhaps the most important because Apple ensures more people lock their iPhone with a passcode.

The second type is to authorize purchases from the iTunes Store, App Store and iBooks Store. With Touch ID enabled, you can quickly authorize purchases.

However beyond that there are many potential uses for Touch ID. It’s pretty clear that Apple is often playing a long-game, and adding a fingerprint scanner to the iPhone opens up a raft of possibilities.

Fingerprints are personal, so anytime you need to prove who you are, the Touch ID sensor can come into play. So what could Apple’s future plans for Touch ID involve?


Touch ID for web authentication

Probably the first and most obvious extension of Touch ID will be to integrate it with Apple’s iCloud Keychain system. This service enables iOS devices to store (and share) website passwords with other iOS and Mac computers. Instead of typing in a long password you enter your iPhone passcode. We’re not fully sure why this isn't already working with Touch ID; it seems an obvious home for it. Maybe Apple wanted time to bed in the technology and road test Touch ID’s security before giving it control over third-party passwords. For now, you can make payments with iTunes, but it surely won’t be long before you can log in to your Amazon account with Touch ID.

Using Touch ID for Parental unlock

iOS devices already have sturdy parental controls in the form of iOS Restrictions. With Restrictions enabled a parent can block access to features like App Installation (or deletion), Safari or Siri. While these features are great, we think it’d be much easier if the passcode could be replaced with a parental finger. Just as Touch ID has made passcodes easier to use, it will make parental controls easier to use.

Touch ID Success

Setting up multiple iPhone and iPad accounts with Touch ID

The next step from parental controls would be the implementation of multiple accounts inside iOS. Multiple people can use a Mac with different accounts. Each has their own implementation of Calendar, Mail and Contacts and although they share apps you have your own files. Touch ID could be used to enable people in a family to share an iPad but have their own accounts settings. When you pick up an iPad in the Future it could switch on with all your personal settings; when somebody else uses it it switches on using their Mail, Contacts and Home Screen layout.

See: Why iOS needs support for multiple accounts

Using Touch ID for Micropayments

We’re already seeing iTunes Store payments using the iPhone Touch ID system, but the fingerprint technology removes barriers to payment. This could make it easier for some apps, or websites, to implement apple payment technology for micropayments. These could be just 10c to access some content briefly. Entering a password to pay a small amount to use a feature in an app or website is too much to ask, but a small fee at a touch of a finger is perfectly acceptable. Touch ID could be the technology that makes micropayments a reality.

Touch ID Place Your Finger

Touch ID and iPhone for store payments

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Apple investor Carl Icahn urged the company to invest in mobile payments. "We believe a revolutionary payments solution is now a very real opportunity that the company could choose to pursue," Carl Icahn, investor wrote.

It is largely believed that Apple is laying some prep work for its mobile payment service. Apple can combine the millions of credit cards it has on file for iTunes to its Apple Stores, and presumably this payment service can move from the Apple Store to other stores. So you will be able to pay for goods using just your iPhone linked to your credit card. It could be that Apple is planning to use iBeacon technology to connect the iPhone to a store payment system. If so there will need to be some form of identification, and Touch ID is just the thing.


Using Touch ID for identification

The fact that you’re carrying a device around with you that is capable of displaying personal information and verifying you as the owner won’t have escaped government departments. It is certainly going to be possible for Touch ID apps to verify everything from your age in shops, to your driving license details to a police officer. With an identification system in place it would be possible for government agencies to replace their paper identification systems with online apps and services. Whether Apple would want their device to be used for this is another matter, especially in the light of NSA activity that is damaging the reputation of large American tech companies. But in the future it’s easy to envision a smartphone-based identity system.

See: Top UK officials doubt national ID card plan