Apple Touch ID awaits iCloud Keychain for its revolutionary moment

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CNET Editor

Seamus Byrne is the Editor of CNET Australia. At other times he'll be found messing with apps, watching TV, building LEGO, and rolling dice. Usually at the same time.

iCloud Keychain has shifted to "coming soon" in iOS 7 at launch. The feature could make Apple's fingerprint technology turn all passwords into a simple tap of the finger.

iCloud Keychain + Touch ID = revolution?
(Screenshot by Seamus Byrne/CNET Australia)

Apple's new fingerprint-scanning technology in the iPhone 5s, Touch ID, will only have two functions at launch: to unlock the device and confirm Apple ID log-ins for iTunes and App Store purchases. Why such a high-tech new feature for just two tasks?

The answer may lie in the delay to iCloud Keychain's launch in iOS 7. Until just before the new iPhones were announced, iCloud Keychain was expected to be released right alongside iOS 7's full release this week. But as of the phone announcements, iCloud Keychain had been changed to "coming soon".

Once released, iCloud Keychain becomes Apple's built-in password management tool. iCloud Keychain will store all your account log-ins, passwords and even credit card numbers, allowing easier log-in to web services and online stores. The information will be stored with 256-bit AES encryption, and will be synchronised across iOS 7 devices and OS X computers running the upcoming Mavericks (10.9).

Apple has gone to great lengths to assure users of the security of the Touch ID system. It is locked down in a "secure enclave" on the A7 chip, it is never backed up to servers, it only exists on the device and it is read only by Apple's own system software at launch. First and foremost, Apple wants users to gain confidence and comfort with the biometric system before widening its scope.

iCloud Keychain fits nicely into this scheme. It is another Apple tool, but it adds greater scope to Touch ID utility.

Whatever the reason for the iCloud Keychain delay, it seems a prime candidate as a feature set to give Touch ID even wider utility on the iPhone 5s. The Keychain is an Apple-controlled product, so it maintains Apple's desire to tightly control access to the new biometric technology.

Whether Keychain itself had some problem that required a delay, or whether it was delayed to coincide with the release of OS X Mavericks later in the year, it will be interesting to see whether its eventual arrival gives Touch ID its first point of expansion.

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