A new patent application suggests Apple’s prized PIN-based unlock screen could get augmented by a more secure, more creative unlocking solution in future generations of the company’s mobile OS.
Apple’s patent application, number 20130036461, covers an image-based authentication method for a mobile device. First filed back in August of 2011, the patent illustrates how a user would be required to accurately identify a person or object in an image, pulled from the device.
The user would set up this type of authentication system through iPhoto or iCloud.
The solution, while perhaps not the most elegant thing Apple’s come up with, would be lower power computationally than facial recognition solutions, and also gets around requiring a data connection — some facial recognition techniques necessitate sending data back and forth to a remote server. Current facial recognition implementations can also be easily cracked. Currently, the only secure way to lock or unlock your device is by using a four digit PIN, but this method could be paired with the PIN method for a multi-step authentication process.
Apple has explored a number of different ways future iOS users could unlock their iPhones and iPads through its patents and patent applications. Of note are several related to facial recognition, which describe different methods that would theoretically be more secure than current facial recognition techniques. Apple purchased biometric identification company Authentec in 2011, suggesting other secure, possibly fingprint-based methods of user identification.
Mobile competitors on the Android and Windows Phone front have had to develop innovative unlocking techniques to get around Apple’s slide to unlock patent, which has been wielded in court on numerous occasions. Windows 8, for instance, lets you create a combination of swipes over an image to unlock its tablets, laptops, and hybrids. Android-makers like HTC and Samsung have turned to various swiping patterns and facial recognition for user authentication.