The voice of the biometrics industry comes in many forms: conferences, exhibitions, white-papers from vendors promoting their solutions. But it rarely comes from the grass roots of our industry; the very people who are knee-deep in the issues, problems and delivery of biometric systems. If you were new to biometrics and your first exposure to the biometrics industry was say the latest exhibition, you would think that biometric technology was a technology only used by big Governments and Military organisations to oppress their people. If you look at the past 10 years of Exhibitions, you will see the same recurring themes or eBorders, Military deployments and Government applications, with the same characters rolled out again and again to give this year's view of the same topic discussed last year. There is nothing new. Nothing exciting. No new perspective. But perhaps the biggest point is this: we continue to promote the industry to an old market with no consideration for the new ones.
So what are the new markets I hear you ask? Let's look at the Apple launch of the iPhone 5s. I hear my peers decry "that's old technology, with a FAR of this and an FRR of that", in typically dismissive style (we tend to do this in biometrics; never celebrate new initiatives, but seek to shoot them down, often promoting the benefits of an alternative). However, let me put the new iPhone in the marketing language of, say, a launch in the eBorders market: "Rollout of a 15m fingerprint user system year 1, growing to 45m by end of year 3, supporting 50Bn transactions a year". Yes, I know it's only being used to unlock the phone, but let's be honest, it lacks no less integrity than many of the marketing announcements from the big system integrators who implement eBorder system, for example. The point I am trying to make is that the new frontier in biometrics is the consumer and they are hungry for the convenience and personalisation this technology will bring.
I know, there's lots of money to be made in Government contracts. But they do not drive innovation as hard as consumers will. Just take a look at some of the biometric systems used in military applications and compare it to the latest mobile phone: they are 5 times the size, 10 times the weight, with 20% of the computing power and the list goes on. Only by gearing our technology up for the consumer by answering the question of "would I buy that?", will our industry realise its true potential. I know many disagree with my point of view, but this is because they cannot see beyond the current meal of military and Government contracts.
The consumer market will not suit the current market leaders in the biometrics industry of today as they are geared towards direct sales to a limited number of large customers. The consumer market will demand innovation in small packages, readily integrated with existing technology and in a totally hassle-free format. It will require collaboration, an understanding of current technology convergence trends and most of all, a foolhardy bravery to go where no other company has gone before.
So what's my point? Let's start to change the language a little, give space to how this technology could benefit me and you in our daily lives and most importantly, let's begin to soften the message and maybe attract a new kind of audience, one which is not put off by hearing of biometrics being used by the Military or in Big Government. I passionately believe, as I did the day I started Human Recognition Systems, that biometrics could be a force for good, making our lives more convenient, safer even. But most of all, I believe it will bring a world of personalisation through new ways of interacting with technology. In closing, well done Apple; thank you for innovating and bringing biometrics to a new audience, but most of all, thanks for making unlocking your phone simple.