About ten years ago, a number of PC laptops were starting to include fingerprint readers (the kind where you have to slide your finger across a small strip to read) to log into Windows and perform other tasks. Most of the time, these didn't work very well and I think I only saw a handful of people actually use them. I sort of dismissed fingerprint readers until Touch ID made an appearance with the iPhone 5S and it feels like a must-have capability. Curiously, Apple hasn't included this with any Macs. Originally marketed as a way to unlock a nearby Mac with an iPhone, MacID has grown to include some other capabilities. Is Kane Cheshire's app worth using or is it merely a gimmick?
The application consists of two portions: a free application that runs on OS X 10.10 or later and a $4 iOS app that can be loaded on more recent iPhones, iPads, iPod touches, or Apple Watch. The Mac app requires a Mac with Bluetooth LE (4.0), which includes the following: MacBook 2015+, MacBook Air 2011+, MacBook Pro 2012+, Mac mini 2011+, Mac Pro 2013+, and iMac 2012+. The iOS app will work on iPhone 4S and later, iPad (4th generation) and later, iPad mini and later, iPod touch (5th generation) and later, and Apple Watch. For devices that don’t have Touch ID sensors, your device’s passcode or PIN will be used instead.
There are a few different capabilities that MacID adds. First, as you need to pair your device with your Mac via Bluetooth, MacID can unlock and lock your computer when your iOS device is in range. You can set the threshold based on signal loss. Furthermore, you can lock your Mac, enable the screen saver, and control audio from within the app. You can even share the clipboard between your computer and your iOS device.
Setup is pretty easy once you have both "halves" of the app installed. There's a pairing process for each iOS device and each Mac that you want to use. The app will ask for your account password, as it fills this in when you unlock your computer. According to the developer, it doesn't get stored anywhere other than your computer and is AES-256 encrypted and stored in your Mac's keychain. That's pretty reasonable.
Although MacID works quite well with iPhones and iPads (you can enable a notification to appear when your Mac requests to be unlocked and also can disable a widget in Notification Center for quick access), it really shines on the Apple Watch. The app is relatively simple, but offers some flexibility. It can be activated through a notification prompt, a complication, or a glance. Personally, I use a notification prompt. When my MacBook Air at work or Mac mini at home need to be unlocked, I'm prompted on my watch and can simply tap the button to unlock. It's almost instantaneous. The part that really won me over was the proximity lock‐since I work in a shared office, it's nice to be able to walk away from my computer and it immediately locks, as opposed to some sort of window when the screen saver will kick on.
There is the question that if both your computer and iOS devices are stolen, could someone get into your computer more easily? As it turns out, no, since it would either require your fingerprint, an unlocked Apple Watch, or iOS unlock code.
For the app to work on iOS, it must be running in the background (so it can monitor for a change in the connection to your Mac). As it uses Bluetooth LE, it's pretty power efficient. I haven't noticed any battery life issues on my iPad or iPhone after using MacID for a few weeks.
The audio controls and clipboard sharing are a few nice bonuses. Since the app is paired with your Mac, you can use your iOS device or Apple Watch to control playback, much like the dedicated keys on most keyboards. Clipboard sharing is limited to text, unfortunately, and 4000 characters at that. Still, it's handy if you have a URL or email address that you want to send without messing with Handoff.
Another feature that MacID has added is that on machines with trackpads (MacBooks of all sorts and desktop Macs with Magic Trackpads and Magic Mice) is the ability to create an unlock tap pattern to unlock your computer or quickly enter an administrator password. Once you create a scheme, this can create another way to quickly unlock your Mac and avoids the needs to even use an iOS device. In my tests, it's felt a little too much like something in the realm of Guitar Hero/Rock Band/Dance Dance Revolution video games, but different options for different people are always great.
After using MacID for a few weeks at work and at home, I have to say, I'm still jumping to type my password about 25% of the time when I get back to my computer. For the rest of the time, I've mostly moved to my Apple Watch and iPhone and find it to work quickly and easily. The automatic locking is the more valuable addition for me, and that's become a great part of my workflow.
The only concern is that on the OS X side, the app may become less supported as Apple closes down support for non-sandboxes apps. At this point, you shouldn’t worry, but don’t blame Mr. Cheshire if OS X 10.12 or 10.13 break MacID (not that we’re saying they will). At the end of the day, MacID is still a hack on the OS X side, although certainly a nice one that doesn’t seem to cause problems.
Should you get MacID? If any of the capabilities seem like they might appeal to you, the price for the iOS app is certainly low enough and worth checking out. Besides the whole solution being rather creative, it feels pretty seamless (although Apple could've probably integrated something even moreso if they chose to). It's good app and seems to have a lot more potential to make life just a little more convenient for you.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
If you have a few bucks to spend on a creative idea, MacID offers a few new conveniences with devices you already have.
Pros: Unlock your Mac with Touch ID or Apple Watch, won’t cause excess battery drain, shares clipboard, media controls
Cons: Might be hard to train yourself to use it, OS updates may break it