Apple just spent a bitty $356 million of its $117 billion in cash reserves to buy mobile security company AuthenTec, leading us to fantasize about the possible things Apple might do with its new purchase. The obvious thought is that Apple will use it to make its products better protected, especially since that's what the regulatory filing gives as Apple's intentions. "The Restricted Information may be used solely for the purpose of developing a 2D fingerprint sensor for Apple that is suitable for use in an Apple product," reads Exhibit 10-2.
But how? And for what? Let's dream...
- Fingerprint entrance security. This is the least creative possibility, but AuthenTec makes fingerprinting technology. Apple wants it to use that technology to build a special Apple something. HP already uses the company for a similar proposition on some of its tablets. Both Apple's computers and phones have had more security issues that the company has a reputation for of late. The iPhone has had Trojan attacks. And Apple pulled its famed claim of virus immunity this last June. So we (and others) imagine some sort of fingerprint pad access to future MacBooks and iPhones.
- The most secure mobile payments system out there. Though competitors like Google have assured users that cell-phone as credit card technology is just as safe, if not safer, than a regular wallet, various hacks have dented that reputation. Apple has positioned itself to introduce its own iPhone payment system with its newly announced Passbook, which will come with the new iOS. This technology might act as a way to make us feel like its safe enough to use, as Seeking Alpha's Josh Franklin explains. "Apple is not going to the trouble of adding a biometric sensor just so that you don't have to use a four digit password. They are adding a biometric sensor so that the iPhone can become a safe and secure payment device," he writes. The company has already tested this capability, notes Fast Company's Nidhi Subbaraman. AuthenTec claims it was the first company in the U.S. to do that.
- iPhone forensics. This would be the most future-wow of the possibilities, but it fits with AuthenTec's unique technology. The company not only takes fingerprints, but it can differentiate between dead and living people's prints. For security reasons, a dead person's prints would not authenticate, explains the company's site. But what if Apple took this concept a step further into fingerprint collection.
- Other touch stuff. The sensors aren't just for authentication. Again from the company FAQ page: "The sensors take full advantage of touch-powered features to deliver the most convenient, reliable and cost-effective means available for touch control, fast-user switching, speed dialing," it explains. Apple's supposed thinner iPhone 5 screen uses a more advanced technology vis-à-vis the touch screen to get the slimmer size. AuthenTec could lead to future developments like these.
From the sounds of it, it looks like the tech voices think Apple will use the tech for a better payments system. Others, like ZDNet's Larry Dignan, however, thinks much less of Apple, suggesting the company bought AuthenTec out of spite for Samsung, the company with which it is currently in a never ending patent spat. Before the purchase, the security company had a deal with Samsung that could have threatened Apple. Dignan explains:
AuthenTec's business was quickly transforming to one focused on mobile security. And a big deal with Samsung to secure its Android devices could have been a material threat to Apple in a world where employees are dictating what devices are used in the workplace.
But it would be disappointing if Apple bought the company and did nothing with it, so we're gunning for a native iPhone CSI app.