What Happens to Apple's Touch ID Now?

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Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) only brought Touch ID to the Mac just last year in the redesigned MacBook Pros, which inevitably spurred speculation that Apple might eventually try to bring the fingerprint recognition technology to other Macs in the near future. It would seem silly to embark upon such a transition but not bring Touch ID to other desktop Macs, likely with Touch ID integrated into an external keyboard. There was even a patent published earlier this year for such an accessory.

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But with the introduction of Face ID, the fate of Touch ID remains unclear. Apple's 2018 iPhone lineup is expected to drop Touch ID altogether in favor of Face ID as the TrueDepth supply chain matures and ramps, according to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. Next year's iPad Pros are similarly expected to make the switch to 3D facial recognition.

What happens to Touch ID now?

Back to the Mac

The Touch Bar that is paired with Touch ID has been underwhelming, particularly among professional users that prefer fixed hardware keys for productivity purposes.

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Apple rarely backs down from technological shifts that it pushes, so it's hard to imagine the company ditching the Touch Bar so soon, but Touch ID is a different matter. Apple argues that Face ID is superior to Touch ID in terms of biometric security, and it now seems inevitable that Apple will bring Face ID to the Mac. The TrueDepth camera system could fit above Mac displays where the iSight camera currently sits (and likely without the controversial notch on iPhone X).

The real question is whether or not Apple goes all-in on Face ID and abandons bringing Touch ID to the rest of the Mac lineup. A recent quote from Chief Design Officer Jony Ive offers some hints.

Keeping old features at any cost is a "path that leads to failure"

The iPhone X was just named one of the best 25 inventions of 2017 by TIME magazine, and Ive sat down with the publication to discuss the device. The full interview is worth checking out, but there's one quote that's relevant here.

"I actually think the path of holding onto features that have been effective, the path of holding onto those whatever the cost, is a path that leads to failure," Ive told TIME. "And in the short term, it's the path the feels less risky and it's the path that feels more secure."

It's a general sentiment that could refer to anything, but given recent introduction of Face ID, Ive's comments could suggest that Touch ID is one of those features that Appel drops without ever looking back.

The case for keeping Touch ID

However, there is one compelling reason to consider keeping Touch ID: segmentation. Apple has been pursuing a bifurcated strategy of differentiating iPhones and iPads. Instead of adding Face ID throughout the product portfolio, Apple could hypothetically keep Touch ID around for the lower-end products as a way to differentiate (and justify the premium pricing of) higher-end offerings.

Consider the non-Pro iPad ($329) or the iPhone SE ($349), both of which currently have Touch ID. Apple will inevitably refresh these products, but what if instead of adding Face ID, it just kept Touch ID to save on costs? What if Apple added Face ID to high-end Macs but left Touch ID for entry-level MacBooks (with or without the Touch Bar)?

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Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.