Thursday, 18 December 2014

Are fingerprint scanners already played out?

By now we should all know that we need to lock our smartphones, phablets, and tablets, right? How many of us actually do? I know I do! That’s mostly because I live in a household with grubby little hands that try to get into all my new toys review units. The other reason is because I work with a bunch of practical jokers. They always want to change my ringtones to something inappropriate. I don’t where where they got the idea from, I only pick up their unattended iPhones and say “Siri, call me Star Lord”. We all know that passwords are the most secure, but they take too long to type in. PINs aren’t as secure, but they’re quicker to input. Patterns are super fast, but not that secure at all. Lastly, there’s biometrics like Trusted Face (formerly “Face Unlock”) and fingerprint scanners. But are fingerprint scanners already played out?

Latent Print Certification Board

Fingerprint. GFDL
Fingerprints are very interesting things. No two are the same. Even identical twins have different fingerprints. They’re also fairly easy to categorize, but identifying them is as much an art as it is a science. Though many may think that fingerprints offer an infallible means of personal identification, this assertion is not entirely correct. Partial fingerprints can be misconstrued to belong to another person even by trained, professional fingerprinters.
The Latent Print Certification program recognizes that such mistakes can sometimes occur, and when they do, these mistakes must be addressed by the Latent Print Certification Board. Unfortunately,  the fingerprints that the Latent Print Certification Board deals with typically don’t have anything to do with the fingerprint scanners in our technology, it sticks more to the realm of court cases and legal documents.
Digital fingerprint scanners “interpret” the details on our fingers and turn them into a digital representation of our actual, analog fingerprints. Just like interpreting language is often subject to mistakes due to the skill and comprehension of both the speaker and the listener, as well as the dialect and jargon being used, so too are the interpretations of fingerprints from analog (on our fingers) to digital (on our devices).
Dirty fingers (or scanners), fingers that have been damaged through injury, scarring, or diseases such as leprosy, or fingers that are covered with bandages or other substances can (and do) interfere with the way our fingerprints can be read and interpreted. The resolution of the scanner and algorithm used to encode a digital representation of our fingerprints a;so play significant roles. Ultimately, scans can fail completely, or worse yet, false matches can be made.  When either happen there is no Latent Print Certification Board to individually resolve the issues.

Scanner Technology

Samsung Fingerprint InterfaceFor a very long time, the fingerprint scanners on our laptops and PDAs have taken the form of an optical stripe. We’d draw our fingers slowly across them to “scan” our prints into the system, much in the same way that a document scanner shines a light across a document from top to bottom to digitize it. Document scanners are controlled by servos and motors that keep the scanner moving at a consistent (and painstakingly slow) pace. Fingerprint scanners are subject to our veryinconsistent motion which often results in failed scans.
Samsung uses this “pull to scan” type of technology in some of its handsets, and HTC tried to implement this type of fingerprint scanning in its One Max.
“I’m willing to give HTC credit for trying something, even if it is something that any pack of five year olds could have told them was a bad idea.” – Adam Doud

Apple’s Solution

iphone 5SApple decided to include a fingerprint scanner in its recent handsets, and thought it would be a good idea to hide it behind the big button on the font. Unlike the others that require you to move your finger across the scanner, Apple’s essentially takes a picture of your finger all at once and does the fingerprint scanning based on that. It’s a much better way to go about scanning fingerprints.
Apple’s solution seems to be the direction the industry needs to take going forward, but we find ourself at another Chicken and the Egg conundrum. Fingerprint technology isn’t quite there yet, and apps don’t quite “get” how you should interact with the scanner. Sure, from a technological standpoint, communication between the scanner and the app can occur, but when and how this interaction takes place, and why it hasn’t replaced the need for typed passwords still has some kinks to be worked out.
Those kinks can’t be worked out until the technology improves, but the technology can’t be improved until the kinks are worked out.
Right now, the kinks seem like they’re the stumbling block, and no one wants to heavily invest in forging ahead with a solution that may be tossed aside in the next iteration, or the one after that.
In the meantime we stagnate and are forced to ask ourselves, are fingerprint scanners already played out, or are we on the verge of a new way to conveniently and securely identify ourselves? We’re curious to know your thoughts! Head down to the comments and let us know what you think!

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