At the moment, you probably unlock your smartphone by quickly tapping in a passcode or placing your finger on a sensor. However, in the not-too-distant future, you might be doing it by looking at the phone and… actually, that’s it. Yes, just looking at it! That’s thanks to more and more phone makers integrating iris-scanning technology into their devices.
Lumia on the horizon
For several people, looking at a smartphone to unlock it is already pretty routine. That’s because a number of respectable phones already come with the necessary technology. The first phones that brought iris-scanning to the mass market were Microsoft’s Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL last year – so, how does the technology work with these handsets?
In addition to the as-expected rear camera for taking scenery shots and front camera for capturing selfies, each of these phones has an infrared camera plus another camera intended specifically for taking photos of your eyes. The unlocking process sees the infrared camera lighting up your eyes before the second camera captures a picture of them. The device will then check a hash that it has stored as it discerns whether those eyes are really yours.
That’s the unlocking process as described by Windows Central, and it should last no longer than a couple of seconds. The site reports that it isn’t possible to use a photo of your eyes to trick the system – and you can also safely use it if you are a twin or wear normal glasses.
A technology with promise… and limitations
It all reads promisingly – but, due to the considerable app gap, you are unlikely to consider a Windows 10 Mobile handset no matter how smooth and reliably its iris-scanning technology works. It’s reassuring, then, that the recently-released Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which runs the well-served Android operating system, employs an iris scanner that works much like the Lumia one we’ve just described.
Setting up the iris scanner involves looking at the phone as it captures data about your iris and, according to Pocket-lint, takes only a few seconds. However, the site warns that you could have problems unlocking the device if you originally set up the scanner in bright light before trying to unlock the phone in low light – or vice versa. Narrow or “puffy” eyes or applying a screen protector over the scanner could also hamper unlocking.
A new revolution ahead for smartphones?
Despite such limitations, it looks like iris-scanning in phones still has a great future. Samsung Pass means that the technology can already be used to quickly log into websites – say goodbye to repeatedly typing in usernames and passwords! Meanwhile, Pocket-lint speculates that, in future, iris-scanning could be used for authorising online payments made with Samsung Pay, much like fingerprint-scanning is already used for Apple Pay transactions.
On the subject of Apple, that company is reportedly planning to bring iris-scanning to the iPhone – though it isn’t clear exactly when. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a long track record of accurate predictions about future Apple products, has said that we could see an iris-scanning iPhone next year; however, more recently, a DigiTimes report has implied that it might not happen until 2018.
In either case, various tech companies obviously consider iris-scanning worth integrating into their phones – and this suggests that, even for those of us who don’t currently feel a great need for it, this technology could go on to hugely change how we use our phones.
How do you feel about the development of iris-scanning technology? Let us know in the comments below!