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The iPhone's Fingerprint Scanner Is About To Get Really Useful

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Wouldn't it be cool to log into your banking app on your smartphone using your fingerprint instead of that string of capital letters, numbers and symbols known as your password?

For iPhone owners, those days could be near.

Apple announced on Monday that it's opened up Touch ID, the fingerprint authentication feature on the iPhone 5S, to third-party developers.

This means that soon, iPhone 5S owners will be able to login to apps -- from banks, retailers, or anyone, really -- using the phone's fingerprint sensor. So when the next version of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS 8, is released this fall, you may be able to check your account balance with a quick scan of your finger.

Touch ID, which only comes on Apple's latest flagship smartphone, but is rumored to come on the next version of the iPad, currently only works to unlock the phone and make purchases from Apple's App, iTunes and iBooks stores.

Touch ID isn't perfect. I like it, even though it doesn't always work for me. And there are certainly those who've given up on it completely. But before Touch ID, fewer than half of iPhone owners used a passcode on their phones, Apple said. Now, 83 percent do.

"Touch ID has been extremely popular," Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, told a crowd of developers and reporters at Monday's annual developer's conference.

Federighi spent very little time on the Touch ID announcement -- only about a minute of the two-hour event -- and used only the personal finance management application Mint as an example of an app that may work with Touch ID in the future.

But he was quick to note that the apps won't have access to your fingerprint data.

"It will identify successful fingerprint matches," Federighi said. "The fingerprint information is never exposed to third-party apps, or the rest of the system for that matter. It's very secure."

An Apple spokesperson declined to elaborate on how Touch ID will be used in iOS 8.

So is it the beginning of the end of the password?

Not quite, said Nolan Jones, the director of eGov innovation at NIC, a company that builds websites and apps for local, state and federal government agencies.

This isn't replacing your passwords, emphasized Jones, who oversees mobile app development at NIC. It's just another type of password -- a "master password" -- that can be used in addition to the password someone uses now.

And anyone who uses Touch ID on their iPhone 5S knows that you're still prompted to enter a passcode after restarting your phone, and you still have to enter your Apple password to make purchases after your phone has been off.

"It's about password simplification more than a paradigm shift in passwords," said Jones, who said NIC is looking into using Touch ID in its apps. "Anything that makes life easier for folks to use more complex passwords and not repeat the same password for multiple different apps is a step in the right direction."

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