Eyes are considered to be the windows to a person’s soul. If Samsung has its way, your eyes may also be the password to secure your smartphone and apps as well. The company is slowly making eye-scanning technology as standard across its line-up of tablets and smartphones. It all started out with the Galaxy Tab Iris tablet, which was released in May in India. The upcoming Galaxy Note 7 smartphone will also have the same eye-scanning technology built-in.
In the Galaxy Note 7, the iris scanner uses two distinct pieces of hardware. The first is a front-facing iris camera—incidentally, this is a separate camera module and not the front facing camera that you will use for selfies. The second hardware is an infrared light to assist in detection, reading the iris pattern and authentication of the iris. Samsung has also integrated the entire technology in a way that it will also utilize the light emitted from the Galaxy Note 7’s display, which will improve scanning accuracy in low light environments.
While fingerprint scanners are very common now in Android smartphones, eye scanners are not yet as popular. And hence, there aren’t yet enough supporting and compatible software and apps made by third-party developers. At the moment, Samsung is using the eye-scanning technology to drive certain software on the Note 7, apart from simple unlocking of the phone. The first is called Secure Folder—this is a separate folder for users to manage what they classify as private apps and files, and access them only after authentication. Apart from the iris scan, the Secure Folder also works with the fingerprint scanner, pattern lock and a number based PIN. You could save your sensitive banking information here, hide away specific photos from the gallery and to block access to certain apps from prying eyes, for example. Secondly, iris scanning also drives a feature known as Samsung Pass. This app can be used to store the login credentials of various websites that you may regularly visit, and can allow easy login after establishing your identity with the iris scan. The third feature is the integration of the iris scanner into mobile banking apps. At present, this feature is limited to the apps for Bank of America, Citibank and US Bank.
It will be interesting to see when third party apps start to integrate this biometric scanning feature for authentication and access to user accounts. Which is why, for the foreseeable future, we will see both the iris scanner and the fingerprint scanner capabilities in smartphones—at least till the time the former matures enough for the latter to be done away with.
There are some legitimate doubts about the long-term health risks that iris scanning technology may potentially pose. The fact that an iris scanner shines an unseen beam of light into the user’s eye every time, there may be chances of damage in the long term. And now that the tech is going mainstream, we expect medical researchers to test this out in greater detail.
But, do we really need to move beyond the fingerprint scanner? For starters, iris scanning involved no physical contact with any hardware, unlike fingerprint scanning. Secondly, fingerprint scanners tend to become inaccurate if there is dust, dirt or sweat on the finger or the scanner itself. And fingerprint scanners tend to wear out over time, reducing accuracy and increasing scan time.
While Samsung isn’t the first smartphone maker to dabble with the idea of eye scanning authentication technology in smartphones, chances are, they will again get the mind-share rights to the technology—just as they did with the edge curve smartphone display tech. And also because we expect Samsung to persist with the iris scanning technology for much longer than others did (Microsoft and ZTE, for example). And thus the chances of adoption by users, as well by app developers’ improve instantly.