Iris scanners on smartphones

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We explain the new iris scanning technology coming to major smartphones in 2016.
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Iris scanners on smartphones

We can’t wait to see iris scanners on some of the big new Android smartphones this year. When this happens, we guarantee that everyone’s going to be talking about this eye-catching new technology.

So we think it’s a good time to give you a heads-up, and tell you everything you need to know about iris scanners, and their journey to your mobile device.

How does iris scanning work?

Iris scanning identifies a person by scanning the pattern of their iris - that coloured ring of muscle around the pupil. It can do this because the pattern of an individual’s iris is unique. Twins have different iris patterns. Both your eyes have different iris patterns too.

At the moment, there are two different types of iris scanners for smartphones.

The first type of iris scanner, used by Microsoft, has an IR (infrared) light and camera.

The IR light is used to illuminate your eye’s iris patterns, and the IR camera takes a photo. This generates a hash code, which gets compared with your ‘master’ hash code that you’ll have created during set up

The second type of scanner, developed by the Samsung-backed Kansas company EyeVerify, doesn’t use infra red light.

Technically it doesn’t scan the iris either, and focuses on blood vessel patterns instead. This simpler method uses the smartphone’s front-facing camera, and doesn’t need any additional lighting.

Iris scanning on smartphones


Iris scanning on phones became a reality last year, when Japanese tech firm Fujitsu released the NX F-04G. It was the world’s first commercially available smartphone with an embedded iris scanner.

Later in 2015, Microsoft’s new Windows Phones, the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950XL, both launched with iris recognition as a beefed-up security feature.

Fast forward to this year, and iris scanning is almost certainly going to feature in some major Android smartphones. We’re expecting to find out more at MWC Barcelona 2016 (22-25 February), the world’s most important mobile technology show. And we’ll keep you posted when we do.

Will iris scanners replace fingerprint scanners?

If you’ve got a phone with a perfectly good fingerprint scanner, you might be thinking – what’s all the fuss? Why do you need this sci-fi sounding security solution when fingerprint scanning works just fine?

Well, even though iris scanning on smartphones is still in its infancy, it could have a few advantages over fingerprint scanners. It’s a contactless option, for a start. Your fingerprint scanner gets touched a lot, so can get dirty and start playing up. That's much less likely to happen with an iris scanner.

And if you’ve got the kind of friends who might sneakily access your phone while you’re asleep (by gentling pressing your finger on the scanner), then you’ll find a phone with an iris scanner a much safer option. Your friends could arguably still access your phone by wedging your eyes open with matchsticks and doing a very quick iris scan, but that’s a whole lot trickier.

But do we even need to choose between fingerprint and iris scanners? Perhaps not. We think phone manufacturers will be thinking about including both options on their devices. Security is always a big selling point, so don’t be surprised to see ultra-secure phones with combined iris and fingerprint scanning built-in.

Does iris scanning have a bright future?

Even though several smartphones were released with inbuilt iris scanners last year, the technology hasn’t really captured the public imagination just yet. This looks set to change, when it appears on more devices in 2016.

But will iris scanning be a hit or a miss? It’s all about speed, convenience and security. If we need to hold our phones unnaturally close to our face for more than a second, iris scanning is going to be seen as an inconvenience. But if it can do its thing without us thinking about it, then its future looks assured - especially when you consider its reliability. It's estimated to be ten times more accurate than fingerprint scanning.

Have you given iris scanning a try on the Lumia 950 or Lumia 950XL? Are you looking forward to seeing it on your next phone, or do you think a fingerprint scanner does the job just fine? Let us know your thought below.

What are your thoughts? Join the conversation here…

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