Passkeys Don't Pass Across Platforms

I’d heard a while back that Apple was going to make passkeys a thing. Now there’s a new article about Google promoting passkeys as an alternative to old-school passwords. Overall, passkeys are supposed to be both more secure and easier to use than passwords. What’s not to like?

Well, there’s a major technical issue that in one way makes passkeys harder to use. How so? They promote platform lock-in more than ever — not good. In other words: passkeys are not cross-platform compatible.

From Ron Amadeo at Ars Technica,

…passkeys sync via your operating system ecosystem, not via a browser, which represents a major regression over the way passwords work.

…having such a major cross-platform regression in the default setup—which is what most people will use—will seriously limit the appeal of passkeys.

As it seems to go with these things: the more secure, the less convenient.

If you’re going to be all-in on a single platform, then you’ve really got to be committed; you’re all-in for the long haul. As Apple, Google, and others continue to grow, their platforms will be harder to be unlocked from. The cost of switching will become extreme. So even if the grass is truly greener on the other side, you’ll either be unwilling or unable to switch. You’re stuck. That’s platform lock-in.

Passkeys is a good example of more lock-in. Because of the way they work, your passkey is tied directly to your device and thus whatever computer company operating system it has. So if you create a passkey on an iPhone, for example, it will only work on Apple devices. Want to use that passkey on an Android device? That might be technically possible, but from what I’ve heard, the process is too onerous. It’s very inconvenient.

I hope passkeys, or something similar, can make the future better than the passwords of the past. But there must be a feasible way to make passkeys cross-platform. Not everyone can or wants to be locked into a single platform. Many people, for example, use an iPhone with a Windows computer. There is no Windows phone anymore; what are they to do?

The whole idea of passkeys is to make things easier so everyday people’s daily lives will be made better. That doesn’t work if they must jump through hoops to make passkeys work on all their different devices.

What do you think?

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