Fingerprint recognition could soon replace keys, credit cards

After Apple helped popularize the use of fingerprint identification by incorporating sensors in its phones last year, the prospects for a new frontier in the world of smart cards have brightened.

Jason Lee/Reuters/File
A journalist tested the the new iPhone 5S Touch ID fingerprint recognition feature at Apple Inc event in Beijing, in September 2013.

The burgeoning arena of fingerprint technology is poised for an assault on another area of personal identification: smart cards.

At the vanguard of groups betting on the future direction of fingerprint identification is Sweden's Fingerprint Cards (FPC), which is predicting that 2018 will be the year when biometric smart cards, using fingerprint identification, become its fastest growing market. The widespread application could be used for anything from shopping, to commuter passes, to building entry, and keyless cars, reports Reuters.

While FPC has become the market leader in this increasingly crowded sector, with its share price surging by 1,600 percent last year, some of its competitors are less sanguine about the prospects of smarts cards using fingerprint identification.

The meteoric rise of FPC's share price, which has now caused the company’s market value to exceed $4 billion, owes much to Apple's popularizing of fingerprint sensors by incorporating them in its phones, even though it sources the hardware from an in-house supplier.

Advocates of the technology say fingerprint identification is both simpler and more secure than other techniques used to confirm identity, such as pin codes. And it is not just the firms manufacturing the products that feel this way: Fingerprint identification is already finding its way into myriad facets of everyday life.

Take Alaska Airlines, for example, which ran a pilot scheme last year to introduce the biometrics technology as a "curb-to-seat experience."

"Our big-picture dream is that any time you have to prove who you are during any of the steps of air travel, you could simply use your fingerprint instead," Jerry Tolzman, manager of Alaska Airlines customer research and development, said. "Using biometrics as identification has a huge potential to simplify the travel experience and eliminate hassles, while adding to the security of air travel."

Looking specifically at smart cards, there is hesitancy among some of the leading manufacturers of fingerprint sensors in terms of how soon the technology will be adopted.

Sascha Behlendorf, a product manager at Germany's Giesecke & Devrient, one of the three leading manufacturers of smart cards, told Reuters that she expected widespread uptake in a time-frame of five to 10 years.

A Silicon Valley firm, Synaptics, which is FPC's closest rival in terms of smartphone sensors, expressed similar caution.

"It's hard for me to project market share in a segment of the market [when] we're not sure when it's going to happen," said Anthony Gioeli, marketing vice president in the Synaptics biometrics division.

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

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