Passkeys were never an Apple-only word, but the confusion is understandable

Passkeys were never an Apple-only word, but the confusion is understandable

When Apple introduced Passkeys, the implementation of the FIDO Alliance’s password-free secure authentication technology, the company did it in the most Apple way possible. It created an icon and printed a very Apple-brand-looking “Passkeys” next to it, complete in the San Francisco font. And if you’ve only seen part of the WWDC presentation on Apple’s passkeys, you might assume that passkeys are an exclusive feature of Apple’s iCloud Keychain. Just a reminder: it’s not.

The term “passkey” will also be used by major players Microsoft and Google. It is used as a common noun and can be used in the plural or singular, for example: “you should enter a password key for your banking app.” In other words, treat the word “password” as you would the word “password”. Passkeys work by letting you log into an app or website with just your username and your pre-authenticated device – which uses a cryptographic token instead of a password and text message code that can be phished or otherwise compromised.

Apple’s head of software engineering Ricky Mondello started a Twitter thread yesterday to promote the new technology and to clarify what it means. Microsoft’s VP of identity Alex Simons chimed in on the thread and confirmed that Microsoft will also adopt the name. All parties involved seem committed to spreading awareness about passkeys, and so far no one is trying to claim it as their own.

“Passkey” is certainly an easier name to digest compared to “FIDO authentication”, which can be very confusing when used verbally – which is where I want enter the name of my first pet? But seriously, if you’ve ever had to explain to the average person what two-factor authentication was and it took more than five minutes, imagine teaching them what FIDO authentication is.

For the technology to succeed, it needs a marketing boost, and what better way to get the word out than to let Apple take the helm. If Apple was really trying to trick people into thinking that Passkeys are an Apple-only technology, it probably would have been labeled Apple Passkeys.

If you’re on developer beta for macOS or iOS, you can start using passwords now where available. Google plans to open up the developer tools needed to implement passwords on Android “by the end of 2022”. And Microsoft currently supports online passkeys using Windows Hello, and will support signing in to an MS account using a password from an iOS or Android device “in the near future.”

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