Fingerprint scanners and Pattern Unlock and why the latter is superior

This might be a bit long, but there is a TL;DR down below

Watching the Verge live report after the iPhone event last night and reading some articles about the new fingerprint scanner technology in the iPhone 5S, I couldn't help but wonder:

Why is nobody talking about pattern unlock?

You see, I totally understand that iOS-users have been longing for a new, quick method to unlock their phones. If you want some kind of protection you can either choose a password or a 4 digit-code. The problem is: Always having to type a 4 digit code - and even worse: a password - can really get in the way of quick interactions, when you are as addicted to your phone as most people are nowadays.

The effect of this: Many of my friends with an iphone (the ones that do not forgo a user-authenticated lockscreen at all) use an unlock-code that looks like "4444" or "5555". This is obviously not very safe, but it's just much faster to type than a safer code, like "1839" and it can be done with one hand all the time.

So in the end some iPhone users choose a lack of safety over the ever so small hassle of having to type a code.

The thing is: Android has had a solution for that dilemma for ages with pattern unlock.

You can unlock your phone with a quick swipe, while still maintaining the complexity of a protection method that is actually safe enough. It's just so much faster than typing a 4-digit code that I personally have never seen an Android user that uses the iPhone like method of locking his/her phone.

Now as I understand "touch ID", it will not only work for unlocking the phone, but also for buying stuff in the App Store. On Android you can of course disable the password before buying something altogether, but for the sake of safety that really shouldn't be recommended!

The thing is: How often do you buy something on your phone compared to how often you unlock your phone? Only with unlocking the phone the fingerprint sensor brings real advantage over a password- unfortunately along with some serious disadvantages that pattern unlock doesn't have.

Now, I won't even start about the fact that of course in times like these the idea of a supposedly "safe" way to store something crucial like your fingerprint on your smartphone is daring, to say the least.

But the main disadvantage of a fingerprint sensor is: It can be tricked using very simple technology. If you're interested, here is a (german) video from the hacker club CCC How to fake a fingerprint (mind you it's from 2006, but it should still work just like that).

EDIT: Quick summary of the video: It is possible to create a thin structured layer out of somebody's fingerprint-smudge (from a bottle for example). You put this layer over your own finger, and a scanner can't tell the difference anymore between your finger and the rightful person's finger.

Coming to a conclusion and


I think pattern unlock is one of the most under-evaluated features of Android. The fingerprint sensor technology on the new iPhone tries to solve the same problem but in a potentially unsafe way.