Apple’s Long Con with Touch ID...
...And Why They Were Smart to Close It.
As of late, I’ve been discouraged by the unimpressive nature of "innovation" coming out of the mobile industry. This is more than the mere snowball effect of functionality leaks over time. It’s more than unrealistic expectations fueled by unrealistic predictions. It’s the realization that the cadence of innovation in the industry has recently become less frequent and shortened. Strong, large strides have nigh been relegated to baby steps; steady activity has come to a partial lull. But there have been some tells in the past few months that spark hope in my mind’s eye. One of these involves Apple, their newly introduced Touch ID feature, and what I believe is the beginnings of Tim Cook’s leadership style showing through. Steve Jobs did not select Tim Cook by happenstance. He’s a very intelligent man, no doubt. It can truthfully be said that Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs – but that’s because Tim Cook is Tim Cook. Tautologies aside – from what I’ve seen so far, it seems that Tim Cook’s approach for the company is not unlike his temperament: analytical, calculating, slightly cold, a tad bit mechanical, and moving at a very intentional pace (albeit too slow for spectator comfort). Most people might think of this in the context of ‘oh, well he’ll probably choose the smaller of the 2 screen size choices because it saves on money even though it sacrifices on quality considering user expectations’ (regarding previous speculation on iPhone 5 screen sizes). But, minus the "slow" portion of the last attribute, his qualities could very well benefit the company in ways people might not have thought of.
Strong, large strides have nigh been relegated to baby steps
Upon the iPhone 5S' recent release, many reports began to tumble out of the event bemoaning the fact that an API for the much anticipated fingerprint sensor would not be made available to third parties. Apple of course implied that this was in the customer’s best interest, and that they were trying to be very mindful of their security and privacy. I, among many of my other techno-forward friends who don't pretend to assume a guise of privacy muttered under our breaths at work, saying things like: "Well that was dumb, considering external demand will force them to reverse that choice anyway." We went on about our day, having brief conversations about Apple's current disappointing state and making fun of Phil Schiller for bandying compact internal design and an odd new computer case as innovation - "Lian-Li must be one of the most innovative companies ever!" Later on, after I’d moved well beyond that disappointment and onto other things, the subject of authentication came up which prompted me to think about Apple again.
"Lian-Li must be one of the most innovative companies ever!"
I'm the mobile strategist for a fortune 50 company, and part of my job is to consider what value lies in all eventual realities from a futurist perspective. Another part of my job is to think, well, strategically, to formulate future mobile intentions for the company or determine the strategic intentions of external sources. So inherently, I have to evaluate the mental proposition from before; that Apple would be forced to provide an API, and what that would look like for companies within my industry.
It was then that the genius of the whole thing hit me…
While running through the thought progression of how one would make fingerprint recognition at a large corporation work, I began to think: "Well first off, if they didn’t make it available and I wanted to see fingerprint recognition happen, I’d need to make acceptance of whatever different formats and accuracy levels are out there on other devices universally acceptable, while maintaining proper levels of security…a situation in which both sides seem counter-intuitive to the other. Wonderful. Not to mention the fact that even if we grabbed every laptop and mobile device available that had fingerprint recognition on it, it still probably wouldn’t achieve the same level of availability as the 5S will eventually achieve… K, even if I could make that work, you’d need to have your customer relationship management tool establish a link to the fingerprint, and I suppose the best way to make that work considering the ‘universal acceptance’ piece, would just be a database of stored fingerprints on our side. Except for the fact that I have no idea what best practices would look like for a database of fingerprints, let alone what kind of file type you’d store those in, and that’s probably going to be common for something so unique. And I doubt it’d be that easy anyway if Apple opened an API for Touch ID since most enterprise security standards out there would say that the print needs to be stored with us rather than locally on the phone. Ugh, this would be much easier if Apple just opened up the stupid API and made the prints cross-reference-able in the cloOWOOHH MMYY GOSHHH!" It was then that the genius of the whole thing hit me… What would have happened if they did make Touch ID open and did allow for matching in the cloud? Well, that’s an additional service given to developers, so maybe a fee/surcharge/add-on there. Even if not, I guess the common consumer would think they were selling that info anyway and be labeled with a Facebook-esque ‘hey-you-quit-being-so-cavalier-about-monetizing-my-private-data’ stigma. Not only that, but why would they make a cool new service like that unless they made it even quasi-open to developers to use like how they made Siri, which I would argue they'd have more of a reason to take the closed-secret-sauce? It just seems contrary to their MO for pretty much all new features (which, the app ecosystem and OS are broader than a feature), to close it off, and especially a medium one. Unless they still want to do it, and are waiting until they’re "forced" to do so... Ah, now I think I’ve got it."
…a brilliant move - and the public will be none-the-wiser that they’ve played directly into Apple’s hand.
So: First they release it as closed, avoiding the same kind of bad rep as Facebook. That gains them trust because they did it ‘in concern for user privacy’. Once they feel like they’ve hit a tipping point, they ‘react’ to consumer and developer feedback and provide access for third party usage of the Touch ID API. This makes Apple seem responsive, benevolent; even ‘eager to please’. The more genius part is that while they’ve been biding their time, they’ve been amassing the largest collection of fingerprint-to-individual correlations. They’re hosted locally on the device, mind you; but laying in wait for them to make it available in ‘the most secure iCloud ever’ for use by the third parties. This ability for multi-factor authentication could very possibly be a paid service or built into developer costs. Due to the likely levels of saturation compared to existing services, this will be the de facto service for apps in the future, causing a level of platform dependency. I can even see Google using this with their apps on the iOS platform. More money, greater platform dependency (also resulting in the former), and reinforcing their positive sentiment cushion makes this a brilliant move – and the public will be none-the-wiser that they’ve played directly into Apple’s hand.
The call of the average consumer will… become ‘life augmentation, and intuit-ability’ through software…
Don’t get me wrong, I honestly don’t find anything wrong with any of this. It just goes to show the new type of genius being exercised within the company with the change in leadership over to Tim Cook, being the very astute businessmen that he is. With the semi-recent design shake-ups, this also gives them the cushion and upward trend needed to gain their "Innovative" label back. While everyone is focused on Touch ID, they’ll be working behind the scenes identifying and executing upon prime interaction paradigms that the CoreMotion API (read: context-aware API), and iBeacons (granular location awareness) can address. As a side note, my two cents is that they’re next big innovation is going to be a combination of predictively proactive and automated functionality that helps address learned user needs before they think to interact. Once they grace the world with that fantastic gift, Stella will get her groove back… er… they’ll be the belle of the ball… er… find their stride?... get back into the swing of things?... Ok, I’ll stop; you get the picture. The point is, you won’t have situations where Phil Schiller needs to defend innovation at Apple, and they’ll be pushing the boundaries of consumer expectations once again. The call of the average consumer will no longer majorly be ‘better screens, better cameras, faster innards, sleek body’, but become ‘life augmentation, and intuit-ability’ through software (and the ever-present battery life issue), started by things like Google Now, an evolved version of what Samsung is trying to do with their devices, and this Apple prediction.
…innovation re-birthed within Apple can only result in the industry once again finding their previous pace…
All I know is: If I’m right, I like this Cook guy’s long game and I’m looking forward to Apple regaining their innovativeness. And to a certain extent (but not largely), other innovators within the mobile industry take their cue from Apple. So innovation re-birthed within Apple can only result in the industry once again finding their previous pace, which is consistently surprising consumers and exceeding their expectations. Now, let’s hope I’m right. ☺
I look forward to the discussion with my fellow mobile enthusiasts/obsessed following this post! Please feel free to post constructive comments below – (I know it’s hard for some, but please resist the urge to troll or devolve into fanboy-isms in the name of greater knowledge and understanding).
(P.S. My objectivity disclaimer is in the comments below. Also, I tried formatting like an official post just for fun, including trying to use official post style sheets, but the above is the best I could come up with. Deal with it. B-| )