What Does Apple Want With Security Firm AuthenTec?

Matthew Shaer, Christian Science Monitor|Christian Science Monitor
Friday, 27 Jul 2012 | 3:18 PM ET
Kimihiro Hoshino | AFP | Getty Images

Earlier this month,Samsung announced it would partner with a software company called AuthenTec, in order to firm up the security on its line of Android smartphones. Now one of Samsung's fiercest competitors is snapping AuthenTec for its own, effectively scuttling Samsung's deal. According to Reuters, Apple will acquire the Florida-based AuthenTec for approximately $356 million.

So hey, what does Apple want with AuthenTec?

Well, on the one hand, it's simple brinksmanship. Apple and Samsung shipped a combined 76 million handsets in the second quarter of this year – they are the "global smartphone heavyweights," in the words of one analyst. So when Samsung wanted AuthenTec, Apple wanted AuthenTec, too, and it was willing to pay for it. But it's a safe bet that Apple execs were thinking about more than Samsung when they inked the deal.

They were also thinking about security. More and more of our lives are lived on our smartphones, from mobile banking to airline boarding passes to photo sharing. And yet many of us don't even bother to enable the passcode option on our handsets. AuthenTec's technology could help make your iPhone a more secure gadget. Especially, as Adrian Kingsley-Hughes of CNET notes, if Apple ends up rolling out NFC functionality on its next iPhone.

NFC, or near-field-communication, allows phones to interact with other nearby gadgets. With NFC, we might eventually be able to use our phones as credit cards, identity documents, or even passports. Earlier this year, Apple unveiled the iOS 6 operating system, which is said to include Passbook – a digital storage locker for coupons, loyalty cards, and the like. Rumor is NFC won't be far behind.

"While Passbook is interesting, when combined with NFC technology it becomes a whole lot more interesting," Kingsley-Huges of ZDNet writes. "It eliminates the hassle of having to dig out the iPhone, search through it for the right card or ticket and then scan the screen. While NFC on its own has been a solution looking for a problem to solve, Apple's way of leveraging technology through apps suddenly gives it relevance."

But NFC is nothing without security. Which is where AuthenTec may come into play.

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