An iOS developer identifying himself as Hamza Sood on Monday tweeted, "iPhone home button to contain fingerprint sensor." Sood has in the past identified other undisclosed iOS features based on beta code. Given that Apple frowns on such disclosures from developers, it would make sense if "Hamza Sood" were a pseudonym. Sood has not yet responded to a request for clarification.
As evidence of biometric device support in iOS 7, Sood posted a screenshot on Twitter that reveals resource files for Apple's screen-reading VoiceOver accessibility software in iOS 7 beta 4, the latest developer release of Apple's forthcoming mobile operating system.
[ Want to know what other features we'll see in the next iPhone? Read Apple's Next iPhone Outed In Labor Abuse Report. ]
The image shows a file, stored in the
BiometricUIKit.axbundle directory, that contains the text to be read aloud to sight-impaired users who rely on VoiceOver. The file contains the text description of what is presumably an as-yet-undisclosed promotional page showing off the iPhone's biometric scanning capabilities.
The text reads, "Photo of a person holding an iPhone with their right hand while touching the Home button with their thumb." The markup that follows,
< key > fingerprint.image < /key > is a reference to an image described by this text string, "A fingerprint that changes colour during the setup process."
(Sood's Twitter account indicates he's based in London, which explains Apple's use of the U.K. spelling of "color," but not the company's use of the singular "person" with the plural pronoun "their.")
In short, Apple's mobile operating system now has the code to support a Home button that can authenticate an iOS device user by his or her fingerprint. The company also has access to biometric hardware: A year ago, Apple bought AuthenTec for $350 million in order to use the firm's fingerprint-authentication sensor technology in its devices.
Apple is not the first company to integrate biometric hardware into its phones. Motorola's Atrix phone has had a fingerprint scanner since 2011. And Apple is likely to face additional competition in the market from Samsung, which is reportedly preparing to introduce its own fingerprint authentication system. Sony appears to be exploring the technology as well.
If broadly adopted and functional, fingerprint authentication could help address the rising theft of mobile devices, a trend U.S. law enforcement officials have dubbed "Apple picking."