Just When You Thought The iPhone Couldn’t Get Any More High-Tech

Experts predict the new iPhone 5 may include a new feature called “fingerprint scanning” with Apple’s purchase of  AutenTec for $365 Million – one of the largest sums ever paid by the California technology giant.

AuthenTec specializes in mobile phone security and, according to the merger documents, is developing 2D fingerprint sensors for Apple.  It is reported the two companies have been in talks since last year and the rumor is the hi-tech sensor could appear as an exciting new feature when the iPhone 5 is revealed Wednesday.

Many speculate that if fingerprint scanning is not among the new features of this year’s phone, it looks likely to appear in the next handset update.  AuthenTec signed a development contract with Apple in July which runs until September 2013, which would be the likely launch date for next year’s iPhone launch.

The scanning could be used to authenticate payments, as Apple is introducing a service called Passbook this autumn when it releases the iOS 6 iPhone software.

Apple has confirmed that Passbook will store coupons, loyalty cards and even airline boarding passes, but stopped short of confirming if the program could be used for cash payments and credit cards. Time, date and location will be used to show the relevant passes on the home screen, so that these can be scanned by checkout airline staff.

Details have emerged over the last few days that American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Australia will join United Airlines in offering mobile phone boarding using the program.

One traveler in Australia, whose phone was running on a trial version of the iOS 6 software, reported last week that he was prompted to store his boarding pass in Passbook when checking in with Virgin Australia.

Other have speculated that the newest iPhone could also contain microchips capable of making payments by swiping the phone over a reader, using similar technology as Oyster cards on London’s subway system.

AuthenTec’s fingerprint identification is designed to work with the technology, known as near field communication, and is already being used on Android phones made by Fujitsu.

With a single swipe of a finger across the smart sensor, the technology allows a user to unlock their phone and turn on the NFC transmitter to enable the payment, which is then processed by tapping the phone.  Apple hopes may be to improve security for features such as payments and boarding passes, and to speed up transactions.