How Apple and Google will kill the password

Prediction: Your phone is about to become a universal biometric ID and debit card

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

Apple has also recently advertised three job openings related to payment platforms and short-range wireless data transfers.

And Apple has been granted NFC-related patents.

Apple is in a unique position to add biometric ID and the short-range communication technology that would make it effective.

Because Apple makes both handheld devices and PCs, it could easily build support into both. And because Apple already maintains one of the largest e-commerce systems in the world -- the various iTunes stores -- it already has most of the infrastructure for payments in place -- and the credit card numbers of millions of customers.

Most important, however, Apple has proved to be the best company in the industry at taking research concepts that have been going nowhere for years and mainstreaming them overnight. It did that with multitouch user interfaces, cell phone videoconferencing and touch tablets. And it could do it with biometrically secured NFC ID and commerce systems.

In other words, all Apple needs to do in order to turn the iPhone into a universal debit card is to add a tiny, inexpensive chip to the device. And all Apple needs to do in order to make the iPhone a universal secure ID is to add a fingerprint scanner to the phone and put another chip in its various desktop systems.

Of course, it could be a while before you can use an iPhone as a universal debit card. It could take Apple some time to establish the partnerships and programs necessary to get every gas station and grocery store to support iTunes. But the password-killing ID card functionality could exist on Apple systems as early as this year, or most likely next year.

How Google will kill passwords

Google, meanwhile, does discuss (some) future plans. CEO Eric Schmidt announced late last year that Android Gingerbread 2.3 and later versions will support NFC at the software level. It's up to Google's hardware partners to build that functionality into Android devices.

Google is already using cell phones to improve security. The company has a universal password log-in that grants admission to most of its many online services, from Gmail to Google Latitude. Google encourages users to associate that single sign-on password with their cell phone number. If someone hacks your Google password, you can get a new password sent to your phone.

The Android platform has also been at the forefront of workable biometric solutions for cell phones. In fact, you can already download Android apps that do face recognition and iris scanning.

What doesn't exist yet is a Google-approved or Google-designed system that ties it all together -- NFC, payment and biometric ID. But with Apple apparently taking the lead when it comes to using a cell phone as a debit card and a universal ID, you can be sure Google will step up and do whatever is necessary to compete.

I believe that it will soon be possible to live without passwords or credit cards. If Apple builds in these capabilities, you can be sure Google will. And if Apple and Google do it, so will all of their competitors.

It won't be easy -- we can look forward to messy standards and privacy battles. But once they ship cell phones that can replace both passwords and credit cards, I think life will be more convenient -- and more secure.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free e-mail newsletter, Mike's List.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon