The Days of Biometric Vendor Devices May Be Numbered

A few days ago I participated in a trending topic on Twitter with the hashtag #IRememberWhenYouHadTo. My response spoke to a time when you had to struggle to fold up a paper map and stick it back in your glove box the same way it came out. By the way, those that have experienced it can attest that it is nearly an impossible task.

My simple tweet was just another reminder of days gone by and a reflection on the retirement of tools and capabilities that used to be the norm. You have probably experienced a similar feeling when someone drops off a really large yellow book in your driveway that happens to have a lot of phone numbers in it. Yes, they still make those.

A disruptive trend that isn't going away

Entire industries morph and evolve as the tides of consumer sentiment ebb and flow. Borders bookstore was supplanted by eBooks and the popularity of the Amazon Kindle. Record stores were made obsolete by digital music and the iPod. Blockbuster was decimated by Netflix and other online streaming providers. And yes, paper maps were quickly overrun by GPS devices.

Are we at a similar tipping point with biometric vendor supplied hardware?

Each year consumer electronics and mobile phones push the boundaries of technological possibility. Along the way, they have incorporated the power of biometrics and begun to embed it as simple supplementary features.

While there have been a number of forays into biometric adoption in consumer devices in the past, none was more impactful than when Apple moved the needle in 2013 with the introduction of fingerprint biometrics in the iPhone 5s. Given the widespread adoption and acceptance of fingerprint on your iPhone, other companies soon followed suit.

Now additional modalities are being introduced into cell phones, including iris and face. Voice is being embedded in consumer products aimed at home automation. Selfies are being used to conduct financial transactions.

Does this mean that the days of acquiring individual biometric sensors are over?

Questions to ask

As a systems integrator, why should you research and propose a fingerprint reader or facial biometric-specific camera when each member of the target population is already carrying one around with them, all the time?

As biometric vendors, why continue to sink costs into the design and fabrication of hardware components when the end user already has high-quality capture devices they bought with their own dollar?

As system owners and governments, why accept and pay for legacy technology that is unnecessary, ultimately more expensive, and your responsibility to maintain?

Sure, there may be particular use cases and implementations where the purchase of fancier vendor devices dedicated to the art of biometric capture makes sense. For example, some biometric components may implement robust anti-spoofing mechanisms that may be difficult or cost prohibitive to duplicate on consumer platforms.

However, this gap between traditional sensor capability and the mobile phone is closing fast. In fact, mobile phones have a distinctive differentiator. They can uniquely layer authentication using physical components such as gyroscopes and accelerometers along with behavioral biometrics and user habits learned over time. These integrated capabilities unique to their platform may actually surpass those found resident on legacy biometric capture platforms.

Where do we go from here?

The market has moved to a consumer driven model and use of personal devices for authentication. Is it time biometric vendors do the same?

I remember the days of carrying around a USB fingerprint reader along with my laptop. I remember deploying large ominous machines that would simply take someone’s picture. But I also remember Borders, Blockbuster, and maps.