As reported this week by MacRumors’ Joe Rossignol and Six Colors’ Dan Moren, Apple has enabled passkey support for logging into its myriad web features. Available on the iCloud website, Apple ID page, App Store Connect and more, people can log into these portals using biometrics like Touch ID or Face ID rather than a standard password.
For now, the passkey is only available to those running iOS 17, iPadOS 17, and macOS Sonoma. All three are currently in beta.
As Moren explained, the system will ask users to authenticate with either Touch ID or Face ID when visiting any of the aforementioned sites on iOS or iPadOS to sign in. On the Mac side, users will see a new option called Sign in with iPhone which, when selected, will display a QR code. Scan that code with your iPhone and again, biometrics will verify your identity. In particular, Moren said in his post “I have verified that it works not only in Safari, but in Chrome as well.
It’s obvious that Apple is switching to passkeys to increase security (and convenience), but it’s also very true that the change also has an impact in terms of accessibility. The reality is that access keys are as much a de facto accessibility factor as they are a privacy bulwark. As I wrote in February about 1Password’s adoption of the technology, entering passwords can be an extraordinarily tedious proposition—even when seeking help from a password manager. There is a huge mental overhead involved in setting up a password manager in the first place and installing the associated browser extension. Then you have the visual and kinetic stress and fatigue of finding the extension button on your browser’s toolbar, clicking on the appropriate credentials, and then finally Check-in. All of these seemingly mundane details are small friction points that, when combined, create a major barrier to accessibility. Sure, using 1Password or something similar is infinitely more accessible (and secure!) than entering passwords manually, but using a password instead of a password manager is infinitely more accessible and secure. Not only are they cryptographically more secure, as a practical matter, access keys reduce multiple pain points in the actual use of passwords. The benefits of access keys here in unintentional, to the extent that they are not designed to be assistive technology; nevertheless, the benefits are surely not trivial for a disabled person. Especially for someone like me, who has multiple disabilities, using Face ID on my iPhone is much more satisfying than dealing with a middleman like 1Password – how good is that.
Considering the symbiosis of the Apple ecosystem, it is also worth mentioning that the current version of tvOS (16.5) has a similar functionality, where a user can authenticate a purchase or log in with Touch ID or Face ID. At a high level, the accessibility benefit is the same as passkeys in that one does not need to use an iPhone to enter anything.
Rossignol notes passkey support on the Apple ID page was first seen on Twitter. All users will have access to this key functionality when Apple operating systems are officially released to the public this fall.
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