Monday’s keynote address at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference is the talk of the town in the consumer electronics and developer communities, and most of the conversation is around updates to the company’s flagship mobile operating sysem, iOS 7. While the update is impressive, there’s been very little discussion around one of the technologies Apple mentioned briefly during the two hour long address: iCloud Keychain.
For those unfamiliar with Keychain, here are the basics: Keychain allows users to store username / password information and certificates in a centralized repository for easy access when later needed. When you allow OS X to “Remember your password”, essentially you’re storing that username and password in Keychain so that applications can later access it for you. As long as you have the master password (your login credentials), applications can access the Keychain on your behalf and make it easier for you to login on the ever increasing number of sites you use.
Extending Keychain to iCloud means that your credentials are stored (securely) in a centralized repository than you can access from any device, as long as you have your iCloud username and password.
That sounds simple enough. But I think that Apple has something more in store for us. Logging into sites with varying usernames and passwords is certainly frustrating, but iCloud Keychain isn’t a revolutionary fix for this frustration by itself. It still doesn’t address the key problem with username / password management: even complex passwords can be hacked. Don’t believe me? Read Mat Honan’s article on Why The Password Must Die.
So why would Apple introduce a “partial fix” to the problem? Well, I don’t think that’s what they have in mind. In July of 2012, Apple bought mobile security firm AuthTec for $346 million. That’s a pretty significant investment. AuthenTec is known for chips and sensors that can be embedded into electronic devices that provide fingerprint scanning capabilities.
Now it’s getting interesting. With iCloud Keychain protected with biometric information, Apple is creating a way for consumers to provide an additional layer of security on top of the Keychain.
What could this mean for Apple’s product line? First, you can expect deep integration into existing product lines like the iPhone and MacBook lines. I wouldn’t be surprised if the sensors made their way onto wireless keyboards and/or the Magic Mouse, either.
But there’s even a more intriguing product that could benefit from the AuthenTec technology: the much rumored iWatch. The combination of low-energy Bluetooth technology and biometric scanning would pave the way for users to securely access their iCloud Keychain and communicate authentication data to a wide range of devices and services. Imagine the scenario where you walk up to any Mac and simply swipe your index finger over your iWatch. The Mac suddenly comes to life with your applications, documents, settings and access to the myriad of sites with complicated secure passwords. All without you having to type a single password.
Sounds great, right? But there’s more. Apple boasted that they have over 500 million iTunes accounts, and most of them have credit card information stored. Now your iDevice suddenly becomes a secure way to offer up payment information- all without having to invest million in capital for specialized biometric scanning.
Sit back, mobile payment industry. Things are about to get interesting.
During the keynote address at Apple’s yearly WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) event in San Francisco this morning, the company announced Passbook- just one of more than 200 new features being added in the sixth iteration of the mobile operating system, iOS 6.
For my colleagues in marketing: This is a pretty big deal. Pay attention.
At first glance, Passbook may appear to simply scratch an itch for consumers who are increasingly using their mobile devices to organize their daily lives. Passbook serves as a single point to organize things like tickets, boarding passes and the other scraps of paper that crowd our pockets, wallets and bags. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find location-based integration and API support that makes Passbook much more than just a digital organizer.
One of the more intriguing examples of Apple’s Passbook solution provided in this morning’s address was the inclusion of a mobile coupon experience by Target. Mobile coupons certainly aren’t anything new; and location-based coupons aren’t ground breaking developments, either (although few brands are implementing them in a way that resonates with consumers). The exciting part about this morning’s development is the support at the system level for organizing and delivering such content to the consumer.
Context and relevancy are the key components of the Passbook experience: It’s more than just an organizer. It’s an intelligent system for providing relevant information that you want and need at the precise time and location where it is needed.
Imagine: Those tickets you purchased for tonight’s concert automatically appear on your mobile device as you approach the entrance to the stadium. Or the details of the reservation you made on OpenTable auto-magically appear just as you pull up to the valet.
While these experiences have been possible for more than a year now with Apple’s introduction of geofencing APIs, the infrastructure required to support them was an obstacle to meaningful implementations for most organizations. With Passbook, Apple has removed yet another barrier to creating experiences that consumers demand.
All that is great, indeed. But it’s just the beginning. This entrance into a one-stop system for coupons, loyalty cards, tickets and boarding passes is the first step of a much larger effort to replace your wallet.
There is still a pretty significant barrier for mobile users in making purchases from their mobile device and that barrier is the payment itself. Scrolling through my own phone, I have more than 20 applications that I have used for making a purchase at one point or another; and with those 20 apps are 20 different accounts. Each of these accounts stores varying levels of payment information. One app stores my credit card number but not the CVC number. Another doesn’t store anything. A third requires me to enter the last four digits of my credit card number and then pass a CAPTCHA challenge. It’s maddening.
Then we have the apps that allow me to make purchases in the real world: Square, TabbedOut, GoPayment, etc. I’m constantly looking for the right app to use.
Apple’s Passbook has the potential to remove all of these frustrations with a solution that takes full advantage of the 400 million consumers who have already plugged into Apple’s payment system.
VISA, MasterCard and AMEX needn’t worry about PayPal or Square. They have a much larger problem: Apple. With eyes locked on revolutionizing the wallet, and their hardware already in the pockets of millions of consumers loyal to their mobile platform, they are already half-way there.