Apple’s new iPad Air and iPad mini: Why do they lack a fingerprint sensor?

Yesterday, Apple rolled out the latest iterations of its tablet line – the iPad Air and the new iPad mini. Although the new iPads are smaller, lighter, and faster than the previous models, despite what the rumour mill insisted, they arrived minus the great new Touch ID fingerprint reader of the iPhone 5S.

Your iPad is important

We often make the argument that mobile security is just as important, if not more so, than desktop security. After all, your phone has access to all your contacts, your social media credentials, even your passwords, credit card numbers, and banking information. Your iPad is no different.

One of the signature features of OS X Mavericks, Apple's newest desktop operating system, is cloud syncing for your passwords between desktop, iPad, and iPhone. If someone nabbed your iPad, they'd be able to log in to all of your saved sites and use saved credit card numbers.

Including Touch ID on the iPhone made a lot of sense. The default four-digit passcodes are easy to break, and easy to learn just by watching someone use their device.

Also, Apple said that a whopping 50 per cent of its users didn't even bother with a passcode. Touch ID, which can quickly authenticate via your fingerprint, was meant to solve those problems.

But the iPad Air and the new iPad mini, which have access to just about everything your iPhone has thanks to iCloud and other services, is stuck with the standard passcode. And, we have to assume, a huge number of users that simply don't bother with security.

What protects your iPad

To be fair, Apple already brings a lot of security tools to the table. When I looked at iOS 7, I was pleased to see call, message, and FaceTime blocking baked right into the OS. It also includes built-in defence against devices like Mactans, which we saw hijack iPhones at Black Hat via special charging stations. There's even a new tool to deal with advertisers gathering personal information – a special advertising identifier that you can toggle on and off, or reset entirely.

And of course, iPads work with Find My iPhone. This excellent service lets you locate, wipe, lock, message, and play a tone on a lost device. You can access a web portal to keep tabs on all your devices, or track them from a mobile app – so you can find your iPad with your iPhone. Best of all, a recent update requires you to enter your Apple ID after your device has been wiped. This means that even after you've cleared off all your personal information, your device is still yours and not just open to thieves.

Instead of Touch ID, consider securing your iPad with a complex alphanumeric password. You can access this by opening Settings, tapping General, tapping Passcode Lock, entering your passcode (if you have one), and toggling Simple Passcode off. You can now enter a much longer and more secure passphrase.

The feature game

When Apple recapped its hardware releases for the year, it called the iPhone 5S its "forward thinking" device. The implication being that fingerprint technology is futuristic and limited to its high-end flagship device.

Apple has done this before. It didn't roll out GPS until the iPhone 3G, and limited Siri to more advanced devices when it debuted. More recently, some iOS 7 features like AirDrop were limited to only the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C. With new hardware launching nearly every year, Apple is in the uncomfortable position of having to ration out features by year and by model, in order to provide an array of products and price points.

Touch ID, or its next iteration, is coming to the iPad but it's not coming today – which is a shame, but we probably won't have long to wait. In the meantime, be sure to lock down your iPad just as carefully as your iPhone.

For more on the new iPads, take a look at our hands-on with the iPad Air, and our spec comparison between the iPad Air and iPad mini Retina.