Developers with early access to the next version of the iOS operating system have discovered software support for a fingerprint scanner that could be built into an iPhone or iPad's home button, according to various reports.

The latest beta version of iOS 7 includes language that describes the process of enrolling a fingerprint for authentication. "The fingerprint reader should allow you to unlock your iPhone 5S, and perhaps auto-fill sensitive data such as passwords and credit card details, by simply placing your thumb on the home button," ExtremeTech reported July 30.

Apple has already described plans to store payment credentials in its upcoming iCloud Keychain to facilitate online shopping. The iCloud Keychain would encrypt and store passwords, credit card numbers and expiration dates, but not credit card security codes, said Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, during a June 10 presentation at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference.

The language in ExtremeTech's screenshot of the iOS 7 code describes only the enrollment process, and as such, "It's tempting to read more into the image than it actually shows," Ars Technica reports. "The obvious conclusion is that fingerprint-enabled iDevices will be unlockable with a thumbprint, but it's unclear whether the fingerprint scanning will be made available to other applications."

Apple and other companies have sometimes been slow support payments in their devices even when the proper hardware and software are in place. For example, when Apple launched its Passbook wallet in September 2012, it waited a full two months to link its Apple Store gift cards to Passbook.

In other examples, Nintendo built a Near Field Communication chip into last year's Wii U video game console, and has yet to use the chip for payments or any other purpose; and Google makes several smartphones through its Motorola Mobility unit that have NFC chips built in, but do not support the NFC-based Google Wallet application.

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