Back in July, Reuters reported that Apple was looking to acquire mobile security solutions company AuthenTec for around $356 million. Part of the company’s business involved providing embedded security solutions, including encryption algorithms and other protections to a variety of mobile device makers including LG, Motorola, Samsung and Nokia, but that division is now being sold off to NFC company Inside Secure for around $48 million. The sale suggests Apple’s interest lies more in the company’s other products, including tools for fingerprint sensors and identity management that work with NFC, and use of its patent portfolio.
NFC World reports that the move indicates Apple is interested in holding onto and potentially using AuthenTec’s fingerprint sensors, which the smaller company employs in a combined method with NFC, for potential use in contactless payments. Apple hasn’t yet expressed any overt interest in using NFC in its own devices, of course, and in fact went out of its way to defend the omission of the tech in its latest smartphone, the iPhone 5.
Apple SVP Phil Schiller told AllThingsD in an interview at September’s iPhone 5 announcement that NFC isn’t necessarily the solution to any of consumers’ problems , and suggested that Passbook as it currently exists (redeeming tickets and coupons still requires a barcode scan) more than suits their needs. But you can’t help but notice when you use Passbook how close it is to a complete mobile wallet solution; adding NFC eventually would be easy enough to accomplish, especially if backed by additional security and identification management measures like those still offered by AuthenTec.
The sell-off of non-essential parts of AuthenTec’s business today probably helps Apple accomplish a couple of things. If the initial Reuters report of the acquisition remains accurate (and it should, according to government records), it recoups investment on parts of the business which aren’t essential to Apple’s plans. It also ensures that once any deal is finalized, there will be less to worry about in terms of Apple gaining undue control over tech essential to the securing of its competitors products, which might raise red flags with regulators. As with most of Apple’s acquisitions, both reported and confirmed, it may be a while before we see this one bear fruit in terms of products, but it’s definitely something worth watching considering its potential impact on the future of the mobile payments scene.