Forget fingerprint scanning, patent filing indicates Samsung could bring iris detection to Android

by: Andrew GrushNovember 20, 2013

Samsung logo

As you might already know, the iPhone 5S recently arrived to the market with a fingerprint scanner in tow. While not a  first for mobile, Apple still touted it as a revolutionary new way to improve device security, and since then we’ve seen companies like HTC follow suit with their own fingerprint reading devices.

Of course there are those that say that fingerprint scanners are more of a gimmick than anything, and that the potential security risks outweigh any possible benefit. While all forms of biometric scanning pose a certain level of risk, it’s a lot easier to steal a copy of someone’s fingerprint than it is to steal an eyeball.

With that in mind, a new Samsung patent for advanced iris identification technology has now surfaced, thanks to the efforts of Patent Bolt.

While all forms of biometric scanning pose a certain level of risk, it’s a lot easier to steal a copy of someone’s fingerprint than it is to steal an eyeball.

Up until now, iris scanning has largely been considered too expensive of a technology for it to be practical in mobile devices, and was further limited because the technology didn’t work with all types of irises. The reason for this is that the most common form of iris scanning utilizes a flash of light to scan the iris, which apparently doesn’t work for people who don’t possess sufficient melanin pigments.

Although there is a way around this using a built-in infrared ray illumination system, this method adds additional cost and such a system isn’t practical (weight and bulk-wise) for a mobile device.

In order to improve scan rates and get around any potential downsides to iris detection, Samsung’s newly patented method combines a light emitting device with a proximity sensor, which apparently provides an effective, cheaper method that works with all types of irises. There’s obviously a bit more to it than that, but that’s the gist of the idea.


Why choose iris detection over fingerprint scanning?

Okay, so Samsung has found a way to make iris detection possible on a mobile device, but what advantage does it carry over fingerprint scanning? For starters, it’s substantially more secure. The reason for this is that the iris has a large number of unique patterns, making it much harder to ‘fake’.

Beyond that, iris identification is a quicker, easier process that takes less than 2 seconds and requires no direct contact. It also doesn’t matter if you are wearing glasses or contacts, the technology will still work — you certainly can’t say the same when it comes to using gloves with a fingerprint reader.

How does this differ from retina scanning?

We’ve all seen the movie scenes where someone puts their eye down onto a retina scanner and the red beam of light effectively scans the eye, gaining a movie character access to a secret facility or super-secure safe. That’s not what’s going on with Samsung’s iris detection tech.

Retinal scanning is much more obtrusive than iris scanning, and arguably no more secure because a retina can change over time due to disease and other issues, whereas an iris stays the same.

While both techs are very secure and revolve around eye scanning, iris detection really works more like typical face recognition, in that it basically just “takes a picture” of the iris and then scans it for a match. The biggest difference is that this approach is much harder to fake than something like face unlock.

When might we see this tech put to use?

That’s a good question. There have already been several rumors suggesting we could see eye scanning in the Samsung Galaxy S5, alongside a 64-bit processor and 560ppi display — but that’s far from definitive proof.

It’s not inconceivable that we could see an iris scanner in the Galaxy S5 or even the Galaxy Note 4, but really there’s no way to say for sure. Bottom-line is that Samsung will introduce the tech when they feel it is sufficiently ready.

What do you think, do you like the idea of iris detection over fingerprint scanning? Conversely, do you feel it’s better to stick to traditional passwords as opposed to biometric authentication?

  • RarestName

    Just use the good old lock patterns, y’all lazy bums!

    • Marsg

      i know right or even a pass code, its literally like half a second difference in unlock speed.

  • filaos

    “Less than 2 secs”… much too slow -> useless

    • MasterMuffin

      The fingerprint scanner takes at least a second too. And if you really want/need to have your phone secured, is less than 2 seconds really too much for you?…

      • filaos

        One second leaving one finger on a button and one second staring at your phone isn’t the same thing.
        Will it work in the dark ? What will be the maximum angle and distance allowing the scanner to work ?

        • MasterMuffin

          Who cares? If you really need it, you don’t care about angles and distances. If it works that’s enough

          • filaos

            Sorry but no. Security features only work when they don’t get in the way. Something generating constraints is not adopted. We are talking about phones and average user, not a secured access to a state building :-)

          • MasterMuffin

            Still better than writing a long password :)

          • abazigal

            It cannot be worse than the current method of unlocking your Android phone (typically tracing a pattern on the onscreen number pad). Else, you are forcing people to still make a choice between convenience and security, when they ideally should not have to in the first place.

            As it is, the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner works because it promises a layer of security which is more secure than a simple 4-number passcode, while also making it easer to log into your iPhone compared to the previous method of swiping and keying in the passcode.

            The best technology on paper is pointless if it cannot be implemented properly and correctly.

          • MasterMuffin

            I have to admit that that’s true. I guess I’ve just had such a good experience with the face unlock that I didn’t think about this so well

          • On a Clear Day

            I agree; with so much personal and business information being stored on our phones a moment’s wait is not too great a price to pay compared to the days or weeks of potential ID theft complications that could ensue if it is compromised.

            And those out there who are readying up their “but we live in an internet society and nothing is private” spiels – don’t trouble yourself or me please. Yes, there if a nation state decides to go after you there is little anyone can do to protect ones privacy or ones life – such has always been the state of affairs when powerful organizations with no real oversight nor budgetary limitations get out of hand – witness China and company’s hacking efforts and our own NSA’s.

            However, short of our being targeted because we have discovered the secret of cold fusion or who really killed John F. Kennedy, most of us are not worth their efforts.

            Nevertheless, only a fool would not take prudent caution and do the best they can to protect themselves, their families, friends and associates from the collection of parasites out there who prey on the unwitting and ingenuous.

            This is a technology that I would welcome. I would never, ever allow myself to use fingerprint tech – despite its glorious, revolutionary qualities according to Apple.

            It will be very interesting to see what the future holds when they roll out the Galaxy S5 – if half the rumors about what may be included are true.

          • MasterMuffin

            O_O go write a book :D

          • On a Clear Day

            One can wish, can’t one – and one can also choose not to read as well.

          • MasterMuffin

            I did read it! I was just amazed how much text was behind the expand button :)

          • MadCowOnAStick


  • Jack Parker

    Finger print is good because it’s just a finger. Iris scanning is the same as face unlock. Youd have to have the phone close to your face and that’s not practical

    • Chuck LegitBaller

      The phone is usually close to your face. This is why pixel density is so high in smartphones. The closer you are the more pixels you can see, unless they’re jam packed with every inch.

  • 321diordna

    i think next will be dna detection.

    • clementi

      brainwave detection would be easier…

  • Hoggles

    Great, now someone will want to steal my eyeballs to gain access to my phone.

    My finger was one thing….but this is where I draw the line!

    • Bryan Z

      LOL!!! That was great

    • dodz

      i can imagine just like the part where loki rips that guys eyeball to gain access

  • Just hope it isn’t half done when they release it like the S-features.

  • Mike – Construction Contractor

    So you are outside by the pool and want to use your phone. Too bad you have to remove your glasses before this feature will work.

    As cool as this sounds, waiting for the recognition will most likely take too long. A fingerprint scanner will be ideal.

    • Evan Lam

      The article states that it would still work even if you wear glasses or contacts.

    • Brian Shieh

      If you came out of the water, your fingers may be too wet for a fingerprint scanner as well.

  • George Av

    Errrm no, i’ll keep my finger print and iris to myself thank you very much, i don’t need the NSA making a fake me.

  • KK


    • jack

      wake up from your hole

      • asdf

        Douchebag comment without any basis…nice one dude…

    • Gary

      How do you define military grade security?

      • RarestName

        When something’s released by Samsung.

      • RarestName

        When something’s released by Samsung.

    • Forlani

      It hasn’t even come out yet lol. Just speculation. If it works flawlessly only then can it be called “innovative”.

  • Gabriel

    This isn’t as practical as fingerprint scanning though

    • asdf

      It’s much more secure though

    • FREd3137

      Of course it is. If you read the whole article, he points out that if your using gloves, finger print scanning will become sort of a pain in the arse. Just the fact of removing and putting your glove back on every time you receive a text, you’d be better off with an iris scanner. And yes for the matter of security, it’s way more secure.

      • jack

        using glasses will cause all kinds of problems.. dirty glasses.. safety glass.. in your bed at night with no light… wake up you shamesung fanboi

        • #AppleWillFall

          ISHEEP ALERT!!!

  • lzr68

    If it works I’m in

  • Tom Clowes-Whitby

    omg everyone’s so lazy

  • Shark Bait

    Samsung galaxy s5. Designed for you, by loyars !!!

  • MadCowOnAStick

    wow people had actually predicted that before the patent if you were reading noob articles from other sites :P

  • Bryan Z

    Samsung how about you innovate “poop” recognition?

    • APai

      dogs would love it :)

      • Froggy

        I am waiting for the fart recognition. Until then, lock pattern is just fine.

        • APai

          they already have it, micromax has “blow to unlock” :D

  • FREd3137

    Before making a hairdo recognition Samsung should really concentrate on battery life.

    • clementi

      I think it’s the other way around. Because Samsung has hit roadblock on battery life, they pursue another “innovation”, lol.

  • APai

    had to show the finger to apple.
    … balls to samsung ?

  • The idea is great, but taking that long to unlock is a bit too much. Also, it probably won’t work well at all in low light. Good idea, just needs a lot of work.

  • Gerrit

    It says “fingeprint” in the title, not “fingerprint”.

  • Tom_Slaapstad

    Why Samsung why? Such overkill

  • Samsung enthusiast

    What if I drop the phone and the iris scanner gets significantly damaged…