Is Motorola’s Phone Protection Tattoo The Worst Tech Idea This Year?

The subject of phone protection is one that both customers and suppliers are desperately trying to solve. As humans begin to rely on their smartphones more and more, using it for everything from shopping to banking, the demand for protecting a device has rarely been greater. You can call your provider (be it O2, T-Mobile or any other) if your smartphone is lost or stolen and have them lock it down, but the risk is simply not worth it.

Apple has attempted to resolve this with fingerprint recognition software on the iPhone 5S. Other companies are experimenting with drawing unique shapes as a form of better securing handheld devices. However, while some people might find these concepts a little wild, they’re not even half as eccentric as those Motorola are cooking up.

At the All Things Digital conference earlier this year, Motorola’s chief executive Dennis Woodside and senior vice president Regina Dugan demonstrated two of the company’s ideas for smartphone protection. The first: a pill that would be taken orally once a day and would admit a signal that would be transmitted to your smartphone that allowed you to use it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that audience members laughed at the demonstration, to which Mrs. Dugan had to stress that it wasn’t a joke. The second: temporary tattoos that your phone could scan on your body to unlock the device.

Thankfully, the electronic pills don’t look like they will be available for quite some time. But as for the temporary tattoos, they are now available to purchase from VivaLnk and work exclusively with Motorola’s Moto X smartphones.

The initial reaction to the smartphone-unlocking temporary tattoos has been almost universally negative with responses ranging from “brain dead” to “idiotic”. It would be hard to disagree. Motorola’s technology may be innovative but it certainly isn’t practical.

The above video advertising the tattoo product features Deepak Chandra, Project Lead at ATAP, Google, discussing how “cumbersome” it is to spend 2.6 seconds unlocking your phone.  Not only is 2.6 seconds hardly worth classifying as a waste of time – there is very little that can otherwise be achieved in the time used input a small number of numbers – but Motorola don’t seem to understand that scanning a temporary tattoo on your arm would also take a few seconds.

Similarly, the selling point of Motorola’s digital tattoos being something that ‘you can take with you anywhere’ – it is able to resist sweat and water so you can exercise or shower  – is equally misguided. Let’s face it: as transportable as they might be, they are not quite as transportable as your own fingers, which you would be using to input passwords in the first place. You don’t have to worry about leaving your fingers on the bathroom sink in the morning before work either. If you did that with a temporary tattoo, you would not be able to access it all day.

Then, there is the matter of price. A pack of ten tattoos will cost customers $10 — $1 per tattoo. With a lifespan of up to five days, this would cost users between $70 and $80 every year.

Deepak Chandra does raise one great point in the video: we have not changed how we unlock devices in the last 40 years, despite the fact that its use has gone on to incorporate many personal, sensitive details on said devices. Apple’s fingerprint technology and various experimental techniques may be problematic, but they are step in the right direction — quick, painless and integrated with no extra cost. Motorola’s, on the other hand, may just be the worst tech idea of the year so far.




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