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Apple Inches Closer to Killing the Password

By Evan Niu, CFA – Jun 26, 2020 at 6:45AM

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The Mac maker details a way to login to websites with a face or finger.

In some ways, it's remarkable that we still predominantly use alphanumeric passwords in 2020, even after tech companies have been trying to kill off that paradigm for years. Many prominent companies are members of the Fast Identity Online (FIDO) Alliance, an industry association dedicated to creating authentication standards designed to wean the world off passwords.

That now includes Apple (AAPL -3.00%), which joined the FIDO Alliance just a few months ago. The company is now inching closer to ditching all those numbers and letters (and special characters).

Visualization of how Face ID creates a depth map, with lines floating above a woman's face

Image source: Apple.

Logging into a website with your face

TechCrunch reports that Apple is bringing its biometric authentication protocols, Face ID and Touch ID, to the broader web in the next major version of Safari. The Mac maker outlined the new technology during its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) this week.

MacBooks now have Touch ID, and Apple is rumored to be adding Face ID to Macs at some point in the future, based on recent patent filings.

Web developers can adopt the new authentication methods for their sites, which is based on a web authentication standard developed by FIDO. Apple says it will offer users a "frictionless experience" to log in to their favorite sites.

While other competing browsers already utilize the basic application programming interface (API) that FIDO developed, including support for Microsoft Windows Hello facial recognition or fingerprint sensors found on many Android phones, Apple has the potential to really catalyze mainstream adoption for a number of reasons.

For starters, Apple's hardware ecosystem is not fragmented, and it can offer far greater levels of integration across hardware, software, and services. The company will also emphasize privacy and security, leaning on the secure enclave inside of iOS devices to keep sensitive data stored locally and winning consumers over. Once consumers are onboard, developers follow.

Put simply, Apple has a unique ability to shepherd all of its stakeholders in the same direction while repackaging complex technologies into easy-to-use user experiences.

iOS apps have long been able to incorporate Face ID or Touch ID, but this is the first time that those authentication techniques could be applied to the broader web. It's similar to how Apple has been rolling out Apple Pay for the Web over the past few years, which similarly relies on buy-in from third-party developers.

The move may even threaten the entire market for password management software, which is expected to grow to over $2 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research. Presumably, Apple plans to also integrate the new authentication methods with "Sign in with Apple," the single sign-on (SSO) service introduced last year that offers greater privacy controls than competing consumer SSO offerings.

Being able to log in to third-party sites with a face or finger will further entrench users in Apple's world.

Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Microsoft and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $85 calls on Microsoft and short January 2021 $115 calls on Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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