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The New iPhone’s Most Cutting-Edge Feature Comes with a Complication

The new iPhone’s perhaps most cutting-edge feature, fingerprint scanning technology, comes with a catch: Some people don’t have fingerprints at all.

Apple announced the new TouchID feature in Cupertino, Calif., at a closely watched press conference. Senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phillip Schiller, showed off the fingerprint scanner, which uses touch sensors and laser-cut sapphire crystal to take a high-resolution image of a fingerprint and store it inside the phone. TouchID then recognizes the owner’s unique fingerprint to unlock the phone.

Schiller called it “an innovative way to simply and securely unlock your phone with just the touch of a finger.”

The scanner can also be used to let people buy things from the iTunes store and App store without needing to enter a password. A similar feature for the iPhone had been widely expected after Apple acquired AuthenTec, a fingerprint-scanner company, last year for $356 million.

Security experts praised the new fingerprint sensor for helping keep cybercriminals at bay. But some, like Michael Barrett, president of the Fast IDentity Online Alliance, which advocates for using fingerprints, voices and faces — known as biometrics — to replace passwords, pointed to a possible problem: Barrett said fingerprint sensors may “work well, but they don’t work well for everybody.”

People who make a living with their hands — for example, artists, construction workers and teachers who use chalkboards — can wear down their fingertips so much that fingerprint sensors may not be able to identify them, Barrett said.

While TouchID may not be a boon to these people, a fingerprint sensor still holds many advantages over traditional passwords, security experts said. Schiller said only half of iPhone owners lock their devices using passcodes. TouchID makes it easier to unlock the device and frees them from having to recall strings of numbers and letters for multiple accounts.

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