In an attempt to keep up with the Jones (and by Jones, I mean Apple) Samsung's newly announce Galaxy S5 has a fingerprint scanner. There are a few differences worth noting. But the biggest difference is the reaction it is getting from the media, geeks, security experts, and politicians. As near as I can tell, it is getting no reaction at all from any quarter. It is as if no one has heard the news. Perhaps they have all forgotten the script they used just six months ago for the iPhone's Touch ID. Could it be that as a product of cultural significance, the Galaxy S5 just doesn't matter? The alternative is that we are all suffering from a severe case of mass hypocrisy. Let's take a closer look at what is going on, or in this case, what is not going on:
Flashback about a year ago when rumors started heating up about a possible fingerprint scanner in the iPhone 5s. The mix of excitement and anxiety was heavily skewed towards anxiety. The handwringing started well before an official announcement. Immediately following the announcement, righteously indignant pundits started demanded to know just how this new scanner was going to work. They wanted detail about the security measures, the encryption, the hardware, everything. They wanted schematics and white papers. They demanded assurances.
A massive FUD campaign began to spread. It would be child's play for someone to steel your fingerprint and spoof your ID. Touch ID would be just another vector of attack for the bad guys, and the NSA. Touch ID should be avoided. The iPhone 5S should be avoided. Apple should be avoided, and possibly sued out of existence for this irresponsible excursion into biometrics. Fingerprint scanners had already been tried and rejected. Touch ID was DOA. There were plenty of people willing and able to produce videos to prove it.
Flashforward to the present. Samsung also releases a phone with a fingerprint scanner. Congressman Grandstanding Media Whore (you know the one) has yet to weigh in on the new product, and demand that Samsung publicly address his concerns. Tech pundits have expressed no concern and demanded no white papers on the security measures taken. Geeks are perfectly comfortable with the new scanner, and seem to like the idea of biometric scanning on a smartphone. What a difference six months and a different logo makes.
The lack of reaction cannot be explained by Samsung providing even more information about their technology and security measures. They haven't. We know almost nothing about it, and no one seems to be asking. Samsung is not using superior scanning technology. In fact, we know they are using old style scanners that require a swipe of the finger, and are notorious for their unreliability. There is no 64-bit encryption or secure enclave. And still, it gets worse.
Not only is Samsung using the scanner to unlock the phone, they have partnered with PayPal for some type of mobile payments scheme. It is also common knowledge that mobile payments was one of the driving forces behind Touch ID. Apple just hasn't implemented it yet. Naturally, Samsung rushes ahead in an attempt to get a jump on Apple. Yet they are doing so with inferior technology and no security accountability. Surely, this should be raising eyebrows. It's not.
Worse still, Samsung is opening their fingerprint scanner up to third-party Android developers right away. Apple won't even open Touch ID to all of the various parts of Apple. Samsung opens their users' biometric data, online identity, and credit card to third parties without one word of concern from any of the people that led the handwringing campaign over Touch ID: the most secure consumer biometric system on the planet. Why?
Despite the media narrative that there is real competition at the high-end of the market, the fact remains that the iPhone is the only one that really matters to the public. If Apple does something interesting, it matters. When Samsung tries to copy it, it doesn't matter. At the highest levels, the world does not give a tinker's damn about the Samsung Galaxy anything. At this point, I bet Samsung would like a little controversy over their scanner. At least it would show that someone was paying attention.
The other reason is just as true as the first. We are witnessing a case of mass hypocrisy. It happened with Siri, and it is happening with Touch ID. Siri was a stupid idea until everyone could produce their own version of it. Only then was it obvious that all mobile devices should have a digital assistant with a saucy personality. Touch ID was stupid and dangerous only until competitors had a chance to crap out their own version of it. The reaction to Apple's 64-bit processor was that it was stupid, followed by, "We're making one too!"
This is done without blush. It took the anti-Apple brigade just six months to forget how vehemently they were against the very idea of a fingerprint scanner on a phone. Now they are championing a scanner that represents worse technology, no security, and irresponsible implementation. All this is done in an effort to dilute a key advantage of the iPhone. Who cares if it harms consumers. As long as it harms Apple, it's worth it.
Apple is set to introduce more interesting products this year. Competitors will declare them stupid. The process will repeat. Just try to remember this when evaluating who to believe.