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YouTube offers 'showdown' between Touch ID and Samsung swipe reader

updated 11:40 pm EDT, Thu April 3, 2014

Touch ID more reliable, but S5 swipe reader able to be used with more merchants

A new video posted to YouTube offers a head-to-head demonstration of the iPhone 5s' "Touch ID" fingerprint-recognition technology and the "swipe-style" fingerprint reader found in Samsung's Galaxy S5, its just-released latest flagship smartphone. Over the course of five minutes, the poster of the video makes clear that Touch ID, first introduced late last year, continues to offer a better overall experience. The clip covers the technical aspects of both companies' approaches.

Both systems work similarly: a users places (or in the case of Samsung, swipes) a pre-registered digit on the home button, and recognition algorithms recognize the fingerprint from secured data, and unlock the device. Apple also allows the Touch ID recognition to be associated with its iTunes stores, allowing purchasing from a pre-registered credit card or store credit through another fingerprint scan.

While the technical achievement of putting a swipe-style fingerprint reader into the S5's small home button is an achievement, in practice it does not work quite as well as Touch ID. However, the Galaxy S5 allows fingerprint scanning to be used to pay for general items through merchants that accept PayPal -- though it hasn't detailed (as Apple has) how the fingerprint data stays secure (the company says it does not share the data with merchants, but instead verifies that the fingerprint data has was correct).

Until a recent software update which appears to have fixed the issue came along, some iPhone 5s owners had complained that the Touch ID button seemed to not match the stored fingerprints over time, requiring users to re-train the Touch ID system. It is unclear if Apple's original sensitivity for fingerprints relied too much on clean hands, or if the fingerprint data hash degraded with frequent use, or if there was some other problem. MacNN and Electronista staffers who have iPhone 5s units haven't reported an issue with the fingerprint scanner, and the update appears to have resolved the issue for most users who were having problems.

In the video, it becomes clear that Samsung's implementation is more finicky, requiring a uniform method of swiping down on the home button to get it to recognize the fingerprint. This limitation makes one-handed unlocking all but impossible, the narrator of the video said, and limits those with smaller fingers to rely on fewer registered digits for reliable success (the Samsung scanner supports a total of three fingerprints; the iPhone 5s, five).

The video presentation was inconclusive about a "winner," since the Galaxy S5 offers Paypal payment with fingerprint ID, broadening the number of stores where it can be used. However, from a practical standpoint of usability, the Galaxy S5 swipe fingerprint ID appears to lag behind the iPhone's Touch ID in reliability of experience.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Jeff75

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 09-15-00

    The performance of the iPhone 5S Touch ID function shown in the video matches pretty well with my experience with the phone since getting it on launch day. Once you train it, it works really well. If my fingers are overly wet or dirty it won't work, and sometimes I miss the button with my finger, but it's pretty reliable. SOOOOOO much easier than typing a passcode. I'm so hooked to it that I won't even think about getting a new iPad until it includes Touch ID. I even want a new Mac with Touch ID - who wants to enter a stupid passcode every time you unlock your screen? Doing that makes me feel like a caveman...

  1. DiabloConQueso

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-11-08

    Just think -- Magic Trackpads and Magic Mice with built-in, sapphire TouchID mechanisms -- the whole touchable area is one, big, fingerprint reader.

    By that time, hopefully, you won't even have to pause -- just simply place your hand on the mouse or trackpad like you're going to start computing, and the computer unlocks for you nearly instantly.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    That would be massively overkill. A fingerprint reader requires FAR higher resolution than a trackpad, which just has to be accurate enough to allow your stubby fingers to navigate a cursor across a screen.

  1. carloblackmore

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-28-05

    These are the nuances of Apple design showing long-term genius.
    First, Apple choosing the elemental shape of a circle as the home button which best matches the shape of the input device - our fingertips. Second, Apple prioritizing that users should be able to reach as much of their screen as possible with only one hand.

    This is why Apple defends and patents even the most elemental parts of their design. Because the minute even Samsung, who copies Apple more than anyone, deviates in the slightest from Apple design choices – like the shape of their home button, or size of their screens – the consequence has ripple effects and things start to degrade.

    These are the design choices "most" companies choose when left to their usual instincts. These are the mistakes we used to just accept as the normal trade-offs with technology. These are the clumsy choices that Apple has an instinct for shaving away and proving technology can be more natural and intimate and delightful. It seems so simple an obvious when Apple makes certain choices, that it understandably feels un-patentable. But when you repeatedly see how easily other companies veer off into bad design choices, we are reminded that Apple does bring to the market a unique design wisdom and genius that is not commonplace.

  1. davidlfoster

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-06-05

    "the update appears to have resolved the issue for most users who were having problems."

    I am not included in that "most" descriptor. The update did absolutely nothing whatsoever to ameliorate Touch ID's incapability of retaining fingerprint recognition on my iPhone for more than 24 hours.

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