It is rumored, and sort of confirmed, that Google will announce Android M at next week’s Google I/O developer conference. What Google officially plans to announce with Android M is still unknown, but one report floating around claims the company will introduce native Fingerprint Authentication to the OS, bringing an end to third-party OEM solutions.
If true, Android M users who own a device with a built-in fingerprint reader will be able to log into their devices and use secured apps without having to type in a password, just as we have now on smartphones such as the Galaxy S6. Furthermore, with Google creating a standard for Android handsets, it should allow many device makers to include this technology in upcoming devices, even if they do not have a history of creating fingerprint readers.
Android OEMs have bolted various forms of fingerprint ID on top of Android, but so far those features have fallen flat, and that’s being charitable. A system-level fingerprint authentication system could potentially allow Android to more closely match Apple’s highly successful Touch ID found in iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad mini 3, and iPad Air 2.
The Android ecosystem faces a challenge when competing with Apple on this front, however, and that’s the reality that Google doesn’t control the hardware. By introducing a system level fingerprint authentication scheme, Google will be leaving hardware implementation to its OEMs.
Apple, on the other hand, is able to store one’s fingerprints locally by only including Touch ID on devices with an Apple-designed “Secure Enclave.” There’s a wealth of things we don’t know about what Google will announce, but it’s hard to imagine it will be as useful or secure as Touch ID.
Still, this is Google we’re discussing. If the company found a way to implement fingerprint authentication, it will probably work and it will probably be secure, whether it’s storing your fingerprints on rigidly controlled hardware or on Google’s servers.
My guess is that it will be the later, and the devil will be in the details. There was a big of pushback against Touch ID from some quarters as Apple’s critics were slow to grasp how Apple was storing fingerprints. Google might not face that same pressure. Its customers already have the rest of their lives stored on Google servers, so it seems likely few will mind adding their fingerprints to that treasure trove.
However it shapes up, such a move should be good for Android. Apple and Google pushing each other to advance mobile technology farther and faster is good for us, the consumer.
Fingerprint authentication will require a device with a fingerprint sensor, though. There aren’t many Android devices that have fingerprint sensors right now — the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, S6/S6 Edge and HTC One Max are a few that come to mind — but that will likely change soon.
A fingerprint sensor was originally planned for the Nexus 6, but Google scrapped the feature at the last minute when it couldn’t get a first-class supplier. Apple reportedly gobbled up all of the sensors Google wanted. Well, the next Nexus smartphone – which should be announced in the second half of the year – will likely have a fingerprint scanner, if the latest rumor about Android M turns out to be true.
In addition to replacing annoying passwords, fingerprints can be used for mobile payments. Apple Pay has already proven to be a hit and Samsung Pay hopes to replicate the same success.
As you may know, before being called Lollipop, Android 5.0 was previewed as Android L. This, of course, means that Android M will most probably also get a sweet name once it’s officially released.
Google is expected to announce the feature at its annual Google I/O developer conference that will be held from May 28 to 29 in San Francisco.