The most significant aspect of Apple's forthcoming iPhone 5S smartphone, some say, is the powerful new processor it will contain. The A7 chip has a 64-bit architecture, which could allow applications to handle large data sets more efficiently.
This brings opportunity and challenge for mobile banking app developers, who could take better advantage of customers' location data, data gathered from nearby sensors and other data sources in real time. They will need to rewrite their programs in order to take advantage of the faster processor.
"The release of the A7 chip and the 64-bit era of mobile computing represents a significant shift and will open up new opportunities for mobile app developers," says Charaka Kithulegoda, CIO of ING Direct and Bank Technology News' Mobile Banker of the Year. "There are many exciting advantages of the 64-bit capabilities, including faster processing power and a larger memory capacity."
ING Direct is looking into converting its apps to 64-bit to take advantage of the improved CPU performance. The mobile app design team is looking at ways to optimize memory performance and exploring the possibilities of handling larger data sets and multi-tasking capabilities in the bank's apps.
Kithulegoda notes, however, that the memory limitations of the smartphones themselves could present a problem. "Apple hasn't said how much RAM will be built into the 5S, and in order to take advantage of the performance gains offered by a 64-bit chip, smartphones will need more than four gigabytes of RAM," he says. "We may not see immediate benefits today, but the future potential will be huge. Kudos to Apple for laying the foundation for 64-bit mobile computing."
Another mobile banking leader, Alejandro Carriles at BBVA Compass, sees far less potential for the new chip.
"Although the faster processor would seem to be very positive, in reality, I don't see that it would have much impact for banking apps," says Carriles, who is executive vice president and director of digital channels development at the Birmingham, Ala., bank.
The reason: most, if not all, banking apps rely on data that is hosted server-side and not on the phone. "This is mainly for security reasons, and the fact that the data changes in real time on the bank's side, and not on the mobile side, which would only be updated upon login," Carriles points out.
The type of apps that would actually see an improvement in performance due to a faster processor would include games that need to process inputs such as movement and accelerometer values, he says.
Carriles is more interested in the 5S's fingerprint authentication. "Currently, the single most important, time-consuming barrier to accessing your data is that the user has to enter a user name or even a four-digit code and/or password every time they login," he says. "By replacing the login process with a simple press of the button to read your fingerprint, you could have your data right at your fingertips, pun intended."
This could enable payments applications to be more secure, because such a physical authentication would be much harder for cybercriminals to replicate than passwords, and speed up the process, Carriles observes. "This could make paying using your phone almost as fast as taking your credit card out of your wallet," he says. "Right now, with the need to authenticate with traditional methods, making a mobile payment takes longer and is more cumbersome."
If the 5S had an NFC chip, then it would be a complete game changer, Carriles believes. "I see this as a great step in the right direction, and you can bet that before the end of the year we will start seeing mobile apps taking advantage of the fingerprint reader to authenticate users in mobile banking," he says. "This will also put pressure on other manufacturers of competing platforms, such as Android and Windows, to incorporate fingerprint readers on their phones."
Another digital banking executive at a large bank believes the full potential of the new A7 chip will be realized when it's built into tablets. Banks could combine location data with customer analytics to build digital context around customer experiences, he says.