IdentityKit – make the watch useful

There has been a lot of Apple Watch complaining recently, and mostly for good reason: Apps are unusably slow and some of the things it does well like Notifications and Complications feel underutilized.

But I think there’s a potential watch feature just waiting to go: Identity verification or to put it simpler, unlocking and signing in to things with your watch.

MacID – a glimpse of the future

Over the past year, one of the best uses I found for my watch was unlocking my Mac via a 3rd party utility called MacID.

You walk up to your Mac and it unlocks. You walk away from it, and it locks again. When it works, it’s magical. But that’s the rub: It proved to be annoyingly unreliable, something evidenced by the number of suggested remedies on the MacID website, suggesting things such as resetting your Bluetooth stack and deleting plist files1. So this feature probably needs to be implemented at an OS level, something MacRumors suggests will happen in iOS 10.

Beyond unlocking your Mac

Let’s break it down, what does MacID do exactly? It allows my Mac to identify me personally: as the wearer of my watch, I must be allowed to unlock the Mac and use it.

Taken as a generalized concept on a larger scale, this sort of functionality could also be used to identify you to devices and personalize experiences: settings for your car / Home / office could be set by proximity to your watch, the Apple TV could show you your favorite shows if you’re holding the remote and smart home gadgets would respond differently based on who is interacting with them.

How cool would it be if that was just a standard feature of the iOS SDK? Apple could give it a snazzy name and make it 3 lines of code to implement: Introducing – IdentityKit!

IdentityKit vs. TouchID

So what could IdentityKit add that TouchID doesn’t already accomplish? Instead of being a replacement for your password, think of IdentiKit as a replacement for entering in your user account. By means of your proximity, you could be known to services and devices. If their security implications are low, you wouldn’t need additional authorization, you’d be good to go. Picking up a device would instantly personalize it to your account and preferences, rather than requiring an explicit sign in / sign out.

Apple drives industry development with kits

The ability to verify a user’s identity is a problem a whole range of products face have to solve – the watch could offer a more convenient way to do so. And it reduces the need for user accounts and passwords, something that’ll be critical in the future: Do we really want to enter account details to into cars, bike locks, smart speakers etc. of the future? Fuck no. But as these devices are improved with cloud-based services and features, they will hold or have access personal information and need to know who is using them to get the most out of them.

If Apple tackles the hard problem of identity at an OS and hardware level in Apple Watch, it would make identity-based features easy for developers to add to their products, instead of replying on every IoT device manufacturer or service developer to become an expert in authentication security. When Apple makes new technologies easy to add by packaging them into the iOS SDK, it usually kicks off development of a range of new apps and products (see HealthKit, SceneKit, MapKit…). IdentityKit could increase user confidence in the security of the devices and services they use with their iOS products.

And it’s a natural application for the watch, which Apple needs to find more real-world use cases for.

Let me know what you think – but make sure you give MacID a try first.

  1. This is by no means a criticism of MacID – I can only imagine the frustrating bugs they have to work around.