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Like It or Not, Smartphones with Biometrics Will Soon Be the Norm

Apple’s Face ID is riding a wave of security technology offered by manufacturers

September 14, 2017 | Retail & Ecommerce | Mobile

This week Apple unveiled a facial recognition feature called Face ID to be included on its high-end iPhone X. The company explained that the device uses a combination of light projection and an infrared camera to create a 3-D map of a user’s face.

Apple has used biometrics on its devices since 2013, when it announced the iPhone 5s would include a fingerprint scanner to support its then-new Touch ID security protocol.

But Apple is actually a bit late to the game with Face ID. Rival manufacturer Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S8—which was released in the US in April—includes facial and iris recognition technology, along with a fingerprint scanner, something noticeably absent from the iPhone X.

The announcement sparked more than a few responses that raised some potential security pitfalls of Apple’s facial recognition technology. Unfortunately for those wary of the supposed infallibility of biometrics, there’s some bad news.

New research from Acuity Market Intelligence found that biometric technology will soon be ubiquitous on smartphones. The firm projects that nearly two-thirds of smartphones shipped worldwide this year will feature some sort of biometric capability. But it also estimates that by 2019, all smartphones worldwide will ship with biometric technology embedded in them.

Share of Mobile Device Shipments Worldwide with Biometric Capability, by Device Type, 2016-2020 (% of total)

Fingerprint scanners are now a commonplace feature on Android devices, where the technology has migrated downmarket from flagship devices to midtier offerings. In fact, Acuity Market Intelligence kept track of smartphone models that offered biometrics, but gave up on the practice in January 2017 after the number topped 500.

Wearables and tablets will be slower to adopt biometric technology, however. Acuity Market Intelligence estimates that just 41.2% of tablets will have biometric capabilities this year, while 54.5% of wearables will host the technology.

But the research firm expects biometric technology will become ubiquitous on those devices by 2020.

In many cases consumers leery of using biometrics to unlock their devices can opt out of the feature by relying on a pin code or some other security protocol. And there’s some data to suggest that a sizable number of smartphone users might do just that.

A recent survey from online payments firm Paysafe found that 40% of respondents in the US, UK and Canada thought biometrics were too risky to be used to process payments. Another 24% were uncomfortable with biometrics, but expected some merchants would compel their use.

Rahul Chadha

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