The next iPhone’s killer feature? Fingerprint scanning.

Fingerprint scanning 002

Most analysts tend to pull their predictions out of thin air. We were cagey about last month’s Morgan Stanley report as it rather cryptically asserts Apple’s next iPhone, the iPhone 5S, will have a “killer feature.” Of course it will, stupid – every iPhone has at least one standout feature cunningly designed to convince existing users to upgrade.

The iPhone 3G had 3G networking, the iPhone 3GS had video, the iPhone 4 had the stunning form factor and Retina display and the iPhone 4S had Siri.

As for the current iPhone 5, it of course offers LTE and sports the dramatic two-tone design akin to a finely crafted watch. According to a rather reliable analyst, this year’s S-upgrade to Apple’s handset will have fingerprint scanning as an exclusive feature…

Business Insider relays a note by Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White, who’s currently touring Asia and talking to Apple’s many suppliers:

We believe fingerprint identification technology will be part of the iPhone 5S and this is likely to be the major new feature used to market the iPhone 5S, similar to what Siri was to the iPhone 4S.

Pundit and tech journalist MG Siegler heard the same, according to this Branch thread:

Since we’re talking whispers, the one thing I’ve heard multiple times now is about some sort of biometric scanner on the new iPhone.

Perhaps not surprising given the AuthenTec buy – but surprised it would be this soon. Still, have heard it could be a big part of not only authentication, but payments of some sort (maybe even through Passbook) down the road.

The most intriguing whisper: that Apple could charge a fee for devs to use it. 

Fingerprint scanning is hardly a novelty, but same could be said for voice-activated personal assistants, for example. Yet, Apple with the introduction of Siri has captured our attention like no other company before, simply because the feature has everything ordinary voice-activated assistant still cannot do.

Be that as it may, how Apple chooses to implement fingerprint scanning on the iPhone may be its make or break moment.

iPhone 5S fingerprint sensor (KGI Securities 001)

White previously claimed a fingerprint sensor on the iPhone will be devoted to “essential security purposes,” letting one get rid of passwords for good. One particularly reliable analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, says Apple will integrate a fingerprint sensor right beneath the Home button.

Other devices usually have a dedicated area for fingerprint scanning. Apple’s Home button integration, Kuo argues, could leave competing products with “intuition issues due to excess buttons.”

In contrast, many Android and Windows Phone devices have more than one button below the display, and those buttons frequently lack the mechanical push of Apple’s home button.

As a result, attempts to integrate fingerprint scanning on competing devices would be less intuitive, and could frustrate users, Kuo said.

Unfortunately, Kuo wrote yesterday that upcoming iPhones and iPads will likely be delayed until Fall due to a number of technical and production issues.

Apple last summer bought smart sensor maker AuthenTec, sparking speculation that future iOS devices could adopt fingerprint sensors. The company has since been hiring software engineers for its new fingerprint sensor team.

Clearly, Apple has big plans in this space so fingerprint scanning could turn out to be a much bigger feature than anyone anticipated.

Just imagine: instead of giving out apps and web sites your passwords, you’d simply put your thumb on the Home button in order to authenticate yourself quickly and effortlessly, with strong biometric-grade security.

How cool would that be?