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Touch ID and iOS 7.1.1

To be sure, despite the ongoing problems with Touch ID, Samsung must be extremely jealous of Apple because the fingerprint sensor system on the Samsung Galaxy S5 mostly doesn’t work at all. Indeed, this is  a high-profile feature that represents one of the most significant improvements on Samsung’s flagship smartphone. How’d they let it ship?

Now before you argue that Apple shouldn’t have released iOS 6 in 2012 with the broken Maps feature, bear in mind that it actually worked most of the time. Sure, there were serious bugs, location and display problems, and not all directions were as accurate as they could have been. But Google Maps isn’t perfect either, though admittedly less imperfect.

It’s also true that Touch ID arrived on the iPhone 5s in a somewhat ragged condition. Fingerprint sensors that have appeared in computers haven’t been perfect by a long shot, but Apple’s solution was neat and quite easy to configure. For the most part it even worked.

But the support forums were filled with complaints from people who said it was inconsistent. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Since you can create up to five fingerprint profiles, some suggested just making a few, giving the system more data with which to get it right. After all you don’t put your finger on the button in the exact same way every single time. There is some variance.

Part of that variation is supposed to be accommodated by the scanning process. You see an illustration of a gray fingerprint on the iPhone’s display as you let your finger rest on the Home button. It begins to fill in with red and you feel a vibration, after which you lift and rest your finger again to continue the process. You are supposed to move your finger around a little bit on each touch to get a more complete scan. The second pass is meant to capture the edges of your finger to flesh out the profile.

My experience was decidedly mixed. I got it to work maybe 75% of the time give or take, but it was good enough to show off to my friends. Over time recognition accuracy seemed to degrade, a not uncommon problem. Sure, there might be reasons, such as making sure your fingers are clean and not greasy. But allowing for all the variations, I wasn’t totally satisfied, and, more often than not, simply entered my passcode instead.

With the iOS 7.1 update, it seemed Touch ID was essentially broken. I could barely get it to work and wondered whether I should just take my iPhone in to an Apple Store for service. I was surely tempted.

Then came the 7.1.1 update, which promised improved Touch ID recognition. So I gave it another whirl. I deleted all the fingerprint images, and started over. This time, I made an extra effort to move my thumb around a bit more to provide the greatest possible range of data.

When I actually tried to make it work, it began to function again, well most of the time. It is not perfect, and the batting average remains in the .750 range, which I suppose I’ll have to accept for now. If I have the time, I might bring the unit over to the Apple Store and let a Genius see if they can find a more practical, workable solution.

But I half suspect Touch ID is going to be a somewhat imperfect solution even after all the software updates on the planet. All right, maybe I should also wipe down the iPhone again just to be sure there isn’t a spec of dust or dirt around that is just hurting detection accuracy.

But the 7.1.1 update is about more than Touch ID. There are published reports that it yields unexpected battery life improvements. This is fairly well common as an iOS reference release receives maintenance updates. It seems there are almost always battery life issues with the initial releases.

Yet according to a CNET commentator, battery life significantly deteriorated with the 7.1 update. But 7.1.1 significantly improved battery life on his iPhone 5. Other reports indicate some improvement, but nothing significant, so I suppose you should be pleased with what you get.

Now since buying an iPhone 5s last September, I have used it normally and have never actually calculated battery life. But having used iPhones for several years, I haven’t paid attention to any change unless it was significant. So some of my iPhones seemed to suffer from shortened battery life for a time, usually fixed in a software update. The battery life of the iPhone 5s seemed just about right based on my previous experiences.

However, better battery life is certainly a significant feature. But Apple rarely mentions it in an iOS update, and so you only know things have changed for the worse if you need to recharge more often. The release notes for iOS 7.1.1 are focused on Touch ID, keyboard responsiveness, and a problem using Bluetooth keyboards with VoiceOver enabled. Nothing is mentioned about battery life improvements. But providing bare-bones information is nothing new for Apple.

Meantime, I will update you on my Touch ID issues after visiting an Apple Store. I suppose I might end up with a new iPhone 5s if the unit is broken. We’ll see.