How Apple paved the way for Google’s fingerprint reader

Me too.
Me too.
Image: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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A drag-down notification center. Predictive typing. Third-party keyboards. Apple’s been known to liberally borrow from Android, but it was the other way around today when Google announced support for fingerprint readers in the next major release of its mobile operating system.

At its developer conference in San Francisco, Google unveiled Android M, which will be available to the public in the third quarter. With it, people will be able to unlock their screens, confirm app downloads, and authorize in-store purchases using their fingerprints—all capabilities that currently exist in newer iPhones and iPads.

However, unlike Apple, Google is opening up the fingerprint scanner to third-party developers right off the bat—something it’s only able to do because Apple tested the waters.

In 2013, when Apple introduced Touch ID on the iPhone 5S, the company kept the fingerprint sensor on lockdown. It had to first convince people that the technology was secure—that prints were stored locally and impenetrable to hacks. But the novelty of such a sensor created a heightened sense of paranoid, leading people to wonder what would happen if someone lifted and replicated their prints—or even scarier, what would happen if someone chopped off their fingers.

Eventually those concerns dissipated, and the year after, when Apple released iOS 8, it introduced the ability to pay for purchases in store via fingerprint and opened up Touch ID to third-party developers. That meant apps, such as those from banks, no longer required users to type in cumbersome passwords on their phones now that they could securely verify people’s identities another way.

For Apple, the simplicity of Touch ID was critical to Apple Pay’s success—enough to get Samsung, PayPal, and Google scrambling. Google may have been an early player in mobile payments, but one of the reasons why Google Wallet failed, aside from mobile carriers blocking the app from their phones, was that it wasn’t simple to use. There were just too many steps: unlock smartphone, launch app, type in PIN, then tap to pay. Taking a page from Apple’s playbook, Google is now hoping the simplicity and security of a fingerprint can help Android Pay take off.