Apple is planning to release a new iPhone that allows users to identify themselves by pressing a finger against the handset

Forgetting your computer password could soon be a problem of the past, if new solutions being developed by Apple and Google fulfil their promise.

Ahead of the crowd is Apple, which is planning to release a new iPhone that allows users to identify themselves by pressing a finger against the handset.

The technology could be used for a range of purposes including unlocking phones, online banking and email accounts, according to the Sunday Times,

Its competitor, Google, is looking into the potential of voice recognition, iris scanners, behavioural biometrics and even heartbeat readings for future versions of its Nexus handsets.

The drive to find alternatives to passwords is paramount to Michael Barrett, head of security at the online payments agency PayPal. He believes that passwords are an outdated security risk.

"Our reliance on passwords is making it easier for criminals and harder for consumers," he said.

Web giant Google is pumping money into building hardware devices that would eliminate the need for passwords.

Designed in the shape of rings which can be worn on fingers, these gizmos will aid in logging in to a computer or online account.

"Using personal hardware to log in would remove the dangers of people reusing passwords or writing them down," Mayank Upadhyay, Google's principal engineer told Data Quest.

The key also has a contactless chip inside so that it can be used to log in via mobile devices. However, the device can be problematic if an owner loses the device or if it is stolen.

Biometric fingerprinting is another alternative to passwords. This stores information such as the way people interact with devices, the force with which keys are hit by a user, the angle used to interact with devices as well as typing speeds.

The Swedish start-up company BehavioSec specialises in biometrics and is looking to set up an office in the UK. "Our machine-learning algorithm builds up a unique profile and a biometric score, and compares it every time your device is used," BehavioSec CEO Neil Costigan told Wired magazine.

A study of online users by Microsoft Research in 2007 found that the average person has 6.5 web passwords, each of which is shared across almost four different websites. In addition, each user has about 25 accounts that require passwords, and types an average of eight passwords per day.

"We want to build up an identity database, like those for fingerprints," says Costigan. "We can then check against it and catch criminals in real time."