“Please can you put Touch ID in your App?”

A short anecdote about Housing Associations and expectations in the digital age.

A colleague recently received some feedback on one of our public facing smartphone apps (I’m paraphrasing here a bit).

“Please can you put Apple Touch ID in your App? It’s frustrating having to remember a username and password to login.”

I thought this was interesting because it tells us a lot about one persons’ raised expectations of our digital services.

I’ve sometimes seen an idea perpetuated that people who live in social housing don’t use the Internet or don’t have access to modern consumer technology. Arguably, these assumptions shape a world view that digitally enabled services are of lesser importance in the grand scheme of things.

Source data courtesy of Welsh Government’s Digital Inclusion Progress Report

77%(*1) of people who live in social housing in Wales have Internet access. Some of these people are likely already using some form of digital service in their every day lives, although perhaps they don’t think about them in those terms.

That leaves 23% of people who may not choose to use digital services(*2), or perhaps need more support and encouragement to do so. Often it’s this cohort that’s used to evidence the type (or lack) of demand for digitally enabled service delivery.

My personal interpretation of these statistics is that 100% of people living in social housing would greatly benefit from quick, accessible, easy to understand services that are purposefully designed for their identified needs. Also, digital services are increasingly just services. This is the direction of travel as the world becomes more digitally connected.


Anyway, back to Apple Touch ID. If you’re not an Apple phone user, Touch ID is an in-built finger print reader. It enables you to quickly unlock your phone using your unique thumb print rather than tapping in codes or passwords. It’s hugely convenient and still one of my favourite things about my own iPhone.

This all might sound space age, but Touch-ID was first introduce in September 2013. That’s 5 years ago. Time enough for this functionality to filter down the Apple iPhone range and become fairly common place, even in the pre-owned market (ala Cashconverters or eBay).

Like many organisations, we work with third parties to help us deliver many of our digital services. When we forwarded the request about Touch ID, the response we got back was (again, paraphrasing)…

“Our developers prefer not to use Touch ID as it isn’t as secure as a password.”

A cursory Google search will tell you that Apple’s Touch ID encryption is strong enough that Government agencies like the FBI have had to resort to compelling suspects to unlock their devices so that they can browse the contents to collect evidence.

Many of the big banks use Touch ID integration for the convenience of their (millions) of customers. If it’s good enough for them.. why not us?

I would presume the answer is related to the associated development overhead which isn’t seen as important enough to invest time in or perhaps not a recognised enough problem to garner more support.

However, if you were thinking about this app in terms of the people using it, you might be asking questions like…

  • Why do people find it difficult to login?
  • How many people have had to reset their password and how often?
  • What are the alternatives to passwords?
  • How might we make the login process friction free without compromising security?

It’s this laser focused, sustained, empathetic attention to detail that results in well designed services, digital or not. Some might also refer to this as good user experience.

This post isn’t really about Touch ID, as much as it’s about understanding and focusing on the needs of the people that you’re delivering a service to. We inhabit the same space on people’s smartphones with the likes of Amazon and Netflix. Whilst people might not always be able to articulate why those services are free of frustration, they can spot services that aren’t.

Good design is in part making things intuitive and natural to use. That’s beneficial for everyone, whether you’re a digital native or not.

So, how do we catch up? How do we meet people’s rising expectations in the digital connected age?

Probably not through the continued use of things that are designed in isolation or at a distance from the people that use them. Instead we’ll have to consciously choose to close the gap. To put the people who use the service in the same room as the people who deliver and design it.

For me, this is one of the key markers for ‘digital transformation’. The demarcation between old closed hierarchical organisations (we know what’s good for you) versus new open networked organisations (we want to know what’s good for you).

In summary…

  1. Consumer technology is ever more affordable, obtainable and advancing at speed.
  2. Good intuitive design is the result of understanding who you’re designing for and what they need.
  3. The lines between ‘digital services’ and ‘services’ should continue to blur until they’re one in the same.
  4. Given points 1, 2 and 3, is the current approach to service delivery working and how might you do things differently?

*1. Worth acknowledging that digital inclusion is not evenly distributed in Wales and varies based on geography and availability of connectivity.

*2. I sometimes wonder whether people’s resistance to use digital services are wholly or partially a result of being unintuitive (aka bloody awful) to use.


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