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Apple Patents Visual iPhone Unlock Method

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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New iPhone unlock method could prevent fraping, says Apple

Apple has filed a patent application to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) outlining an image-based unlocking system that could be used in future iPhones and iPads.

The new method would involve showing the user one of more images stored on the device and require them to accurately identify one or more objects depicted in the images to gain access to contacts, files and other data stored on the device.

Facial recognition technology has previously been mooted as a more secure authentication process, but such technology can require a data connection – something that could be expensive or impossible when roaming or in areas with poor coverage.

iPhone unlock patent

Slidetounlock“The computing device is not required to be connected to any network at the time of authentication,” said the patent filing. “Authentication data that is associated with object(s) in each displayed image may have been established previously by another computing device and then provided to the computing device.”

Currently, iPhone users must use the slide-to-unlock feature and then enter a four-digit PIN code to access their smartphone, but Apple no longer feels that this secure enough to discourage thieves from stealing devices.

“Users sometimes misplace their handheld devices or inadvertently leave them in public places. Such misplaced devices are easy prey for thieves,” said Apple in the application, first filed in August 2011. “To dissuade thieves from stealing handheld devices (or people from accessing their friends’ devices), many software manufacturers require a user to provide input that “unlocks” the handheld device. Such input may be a passcode of four or more characters.”

Apple says that thieves could be able to work out the code by spying on potential victims or by looking at the fingerprints on a tablet. The iPhone manufacturer also believes that Facebook-viewing friends could be a risk as they would naturally attract less suspicion from users.

The company describes a situation where a person watches their friend enter a password and later “views all the web pages that the friend has visited in the last day.” Or presumably enters something embarrassing as their Facebook status (something Facebook users call “fraping”).

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