The Apple Myths Keep on Coming

September 25th, 2013

So, without giving you a reference to the original source, and confuse you further, some tech media sites fell for the foolish claim that iOS 7 somehow makes your iPhone waterproof. Are you with me so far?

Now implicit in such an absurd assumption is the belief that software will somehow render the hardware impervious to damage by water and other liquid substances. I’d love to know the magic formula in that software, or is Apple sending out good vibes that put a “dome” or some other zone of protection around your iOS gadget?

Another item getting lots of coverage is the alleged poor security of Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor system. Now when you examine a feature of this sort, you have to put it in perspective, just as you consider Apple’s Time Machine backup system.

When Apple announced Time Machine with OS 10.5 Leopard in 2007, it was pointed out that most Mac users never backup, and, of that number, only a fraction actually use backup software. For the most part, they just copy files somewhere, usually another drive or maybe a USB stick. With Time Machine, Apple made the process simple to set up and nearly painless to use. Sure, dedicated backup software will offer far more options, such as a clone backup, in which the target or backup drive is identical to the source. But you can still restore a trashed drive from a Time Machine backup, and, besides, it’s free.

Now when it comes to Touch ID, the latest scuttlebutt has it that more than half of the users of iPhones or iPads never, ever, lock their devices. They just leave them open for anyone who has access to the unit itself, rather than set a password. But even if they do set a password, four digits is trivial for a hacker to guess, and it’s not because they can do it on TV.

Typical of Apple’s approach to sophisticated technology, they have made Touch ID on the fast-selling iPhone 5s as idiot proof as possible. It takes 30 seconds to a minute to read your fingerprint, toe print, or whatever. Once that’s done, press the Home button, and in almost a flash, it’s unlocked. For now, Touch ID appears to be limited to the App Store and iTunes, aside from unlocking your iPhone 5s.

Now the critics are saying that you can easily defeat the fingerprint scanner, just as you can defeat other fingerprint detection systems. As a practical matter, though, you cannot just take someone’s dead finger and make it work. From all the reviews, it appears that almost anyone with even a vaguely normal fingerprint, even with scars, can make Touch ID work after the short training period. It appears to be almost perfect in normal use, although some wonder what happens if your fingers are wet or greasy. But you shouldn’t be using such costly gear with dirty hands, unless you have no alternative and need to take that call.

If Touch ID somehow fails after several tries, you still have the option of typing your password, and setting one up is a requirement to use Touch ID.

Now nothing is 100% perfect, and there are already reports that a hacker group has managed to break Touch ID with an elaborate combination of dusting for one’s fingerprint and recreating it as a high resolution image that somehow can be read when the Home button is pressed. It sounds like a fair amount of pain to get access to even one iPhone 5s, let alone a number of stolen units.

Indeed, thieves would prefer to steal something that’s unlocked and easily fenced to an offshore source. If they had to engage in elaborate dusting, retouching and imaging processes to obtain access on a single device, they probably wouldn’t bother. Yes, I suppose one can imagine law enforcement, or even the NSA, using such a technique, but the right to such access is not an issue that will be debated here. As a practical matter, Apple has made it easy for people who would never consider password protecting their iPhones. Over time Apple could conceivably add Touch ID support to a wider range of transactions, but this is something that will be done cautiously, in baby steps, to make sure the process is as easy and secure as possible. This is the sort of thing that the critics cannot understand, because they want everything done at once.

Since the benchmarks of Apple’s A7 processor demonstrate clearly enough that the switch to 64-bit is no gimmick, I’ll set that claim aside without further comment.

Let me continue.

In case you tuned in real late, you know that Apple sold nine million iPhones on launch weekend. Independent estimates suggest a three-to-one or greater ratio in favor of the iPhone 5s. But Apple is having difficulty keeping them in stock, so maybe they could have done better. Regardless, some members of the media are saying that’s not really so good, since Apple made the new iPhone available to more dealers in more countries this year. It’s possible that Apple could have made it available in fewer countries, and still might not have been able to satisfy demand.

Another silly argument has it that it’s all marketing. The iPhone 5s isn’t such a huge upgrade over the previous model, and, besides, people getting off their two year contracts would naturally migrate to the latest and greatest iPhone. Well, unless they went Android, right? You see, people have choices, and Apple clearly gets the highest customer satisfaction rates and, on a per-model basis, continues to beat the competition by a large margin.

Remember that nobody forces people to line up around an Apple Store to buy a new iPhone. They can always order online, or wait a few days for their favorite model to be in stock. They aren’t rushing out to be first in line for the latest Samsung Galaxy or Microsoft Surface tablet. Some tech pundits might want you to believe that people are either stupid, or Apple is using mind control to attract customers. In the real world, the iPhone launch was hugely successful, beating analyst estimates by a fair margin.

Yes, the products aren’t perfect, and iOS 7, installed by over 200 million people so far, has some early release flaws. But nobody does it better than Apple.

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5 Responses to “The Apple Myths Keep on Coming”

  1. Articles you should read (Sept. 25) …. says:

    […] “The Apple Myths Keep on Coming: So, without giving you a reference to the original source, and confuse you further, some tech media sites fell for the foolish claim that iOS 7 somehow makes your iPhone waterproof. Are you with me so far?” — “The Tech Night Owl” […]

  2. Peter says:

    In case you tuned in real late, you know that Apple sold nine million iPhones on launch weekend.

    Keep in mind that some of those went into the channel (e.g., AT&T, T-Mo, Best Buy, etc.) Actual estimates are around 5.5 million–about half a million more than the iPhone 5.

  3. AdamC says:

    CCC did not use the dusting method but take a high definition picture of the fingerprint.

    They are attempting to lift one from a beer bottle which I doubt they will succeed.

    If they want to be credible they should have use the dusting method on an iPhone which had been used for a few days and not take a picture of the fingerprint.

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