If you’ve ever felt tempted to check your other half’s emails or texts, then Apple’s new patent could stop you.
The Californian tech firm has plans to replace the traditional passcode unlocking feature on the iPhone and iPad with an image recognition system.
According to a new patent filing first lodged in 2011 and published this week, Apple’s gizmos would show a random photograph of the owner’s contacts before asking for their name via the touchscreen or voice recognition.
The company has come up with the idea in a bid to deter thieves from stealing its covetable gadgets or even to stop friends or partners from snooping.
In its proposal, Apple said: “Users sometimes misplace their handheld devices or inadvertently leave them in public places. To dissuade thieves from stealing handheld devices (or people from accessing their friends’ devices), many software manufacturers require a user to provide input that ‘unlocks’ the handheld device. Such input may be a passcode of four or more characters.
“However, this approach for authenticating a user can be easily compromised. For example, a thief sitting on a bus may notice the four characters that an unsuspecting person entered on the person’s smart phone. As another example, a thief may pick up a tablet computer in a public place and discover, based on finger prints on the display of the tablet computer, which characters were recently selected by the owner of the tablet computer.
“As another example, a person sees a friend enter a password into the friend’s laptop. Later, the person accesses the laptop and views all the web pages that the friend has visited in the last day.”
The proposal won’t be too simplistic. So rather than being based on identifying people, a picture which the owner associates with certain numbers could be shown.
The patent application gives the example of a photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco being shown, which the iPhone user may associate with the digits 5341 because they are the last numbers of the phone number of someone they met there perhaps.
So, explains Apple: “5341 must be entered whenever that image is displayed as part of the authentication process.”
But, whether Apple goes ahead and uses the technology it has applied to patent remains to be seen. Traditionally, the firm has used the four-digit passcode as a method of unlocking iOS devices, while user-selected passwords grant access to Mac computers.
But the firm is also looking at alternative systems which could eventually replace the iOS passcode system. Two years ago, Apple acquired Authentec.
Authentec is a biometrics company, offering encryption technology, and leading to suggestions that Apple is looking at using fingerprint recognition.
Apple has also filed several other patents related to facial recognition technology. Similar technology has already been implemented in Android but flaws have been found showing it is possible to unlock handsets without the authorised user, by showing them a photograph of the owner.