Apple today announced that it is working with several states
across the country, which will roll out the ability for their
residents to seamlessly and securely add their driver’s license or
state ID to Wallet on their iPhone and Apple Watch. Arizona and
Georgia will be the first states to introduce this new innovation
to their residents, with Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland,
Oklahoma, and Utah to follow. The Transportation Security
Administration (TSA) will enable select airport security
checkpoints and lanes in participating airports as the first
locations customers can use their driver’s license or state ID in
Wallet. Built with privacy at the forefront, Wallet provides a
more secure and convenient way for customers to present their
driver’s licenses and state IDs on iPhone or Apple Watch.
There’s a lot of information about exactly how this will work in the Newsroom post, including screenshots. I got to talk with Apple about this today, and I’m impressed. A few important details:
Driver’s licenses and state IDs in Wallet are only presented
digitally through encrypted communication directly between the
device and the identity reader, so users do not need to unlock,
show, or hand over their device.
This is a super key point. Of course no one wants to hand over their phone to anyone. More importantly, no one should ever hand their phone to a police officer, and that goes a hundredfold if it’s unlocked.1 The Wallet system Apple has designed for ID is very much like Apple Pay. When you pay with a physical credit card, you often hand your card to an employee. When you pay with Apple Pay, you never hand your phone to an employee. It wouldn’t even work, because no one else can authorize an Apple Pay transaction without your biometric authentication. This ID feature for Wallet is exactly like that: it doesn’t work without your biometric authentication, and your phone does not unlock when you use it.
An interesting sidenote: when using a Touch ID iPhone with Apple Wallet’s ID feature, you must register one and only one finger when you add your ID to your Wallet, and whenever you verify your ID in Wallet, you’ll need to use that same finger. Apple has never recommended allowing your spouse or partner to register one of their fingers on your iPhone, but many people do that. This feature is designed to ensure that the same person who enrolled their state ID in Wallet is the same person verifying it biometrically. (This is not an issue with Face ID, obviously.)
To use your ID in Wallet, you tap your phone (or watch) against an NFC terminal, and you get an Apple Pay-like sheet showing you who is asking for your ID (e.g., TSA), and exactly which details from your ID they’re asking for (e.g., name, photo, date of birth — but perhaps not other embedded details like your blood type or your home address). So if you’re just buying booze, say, and the clerk or server needs to check your age, they could prompt only to verify that you’re 21 or older, without even seeing your exact birthdate, let alone any other details from your ID. It is exceedingly more private than handing over a physical ID card, perhaps even more so than using Apple Pay compared to handing over a physical credit card.
Also, it’s an open standard:
Apple’s mobile ID implementation supports the ISO 18013-5 mDL
(mobile driver’s license) standard which Apple has played an
active role in the development of, and which sets clear guidelines
for the industry around protecting consumers’ privacy when
presenting an ID or driver’s license through a mobile device.
Apple announced Apple Pay 7 years ago. It worked at few places at first. Soon, though, it started being accepted at more establishments, as businesses upgraded older terminals with new card readers for modern chip-enabled cards. But two years in, the impatient gimme-that-one-cookie-now-I-don’t-care-if-I-can-just-wait-a-few-minutes-and-get-a-whole-bunch-of-cookies-later geniuses at Business Insider were running headlines like “Apple Pay Is Struggling to Catch On”.
You don’t see headlines like that any more. Nor do you see many headlines about Google Pay “catching up” — it’s not and maybe never will.
These things take time, partnerships, evangelism, planning, and diligent hard work. There were a lot more complaints asking why Apple Pay didn’t work almost everywhere circa 2016 than there are kudos now that it does work almost everywhere. Patience and focus are essential to winning a long game, but success can be rather thankless. Apple excels at thankless long games. Other companies, not so much.
I expect a similar timeline for using ID through Apple Wallet: a year or two where it seems like we can’t really use it anywhere, another few years where we start using it more and more, and then, when we start getting close to a decade down the road, without much fanfare, it’ll be our default method of presenting ID.2