- The most common biometric security features include fingerprint scanning, facial recognition, voice recognition and iris scanning.
- Biometric features on smartphones did not truly become mainstream until 2013.
- Many smartphones have multiple biometric options, which users can set for different purposes.
It seems as if every premium smartphone — and even many of the not-so-premium ones — have some form of security feature that uses a body part as a form of authentication. Many phones will scan your fingerprints, or even your face.
These features, known as “biometrics,” have become a staple on mobile devices, as they serve a number of different functions.
Primarily, biometric features are used to unlock devices like smartphones and tablets to get to their home screens, where you keep all your files, apps, and private data. The most common biometrics include fingerprint scanning, facial recognition, voice recognition and iris scanning.
In 2013, when Apple introduced the iPhone 5S, the first major smartphone to feature a fingerprint scanner, it seemed like something out of science fiction. Users could register their fingerprints to the iPhone to unlock the device. Later, they would be able to do things like authenticate their identity before processing a payment with Apple’s mobile-payment service, Apple Pay.
Since the release of the iPhone 5S, a number of smartphone manufacturers have followed suit by introducing their own devices with fingerprint scanners. In 2017 alone, the number of smartphones featuring fingerprint scanners was staggering: To name just a few, fingerprint scanners were in Apple’s iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8, LG’s G6 and V30, Huawei’s Mate 10, Google’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, OnePlus’s 5 and 5T, the Essential Phone, and HTC’s U11.
Samsung’s Galaxy S8 was one of the first flagship devices to feature facial recognition, but Google also released a smartphone with the feature back in 2011, which was also a Samsung-made device: the Galaxy Nexus. At that time, Face Unlock, as it was branded, was seen as too gimmicky and not particularly easy to use. Google’s Nexus line was also not well known outside of the Android purist community, adding to its obscurity.
The Galaxy S8 helped popularize facial recognition as a way to unlock your phone, but Apple went all-in on facial recognition with its high-end iPhone X, the first iPhone without a home button, and the first one to ditch Touch ID for Apple’s new unlocking method, Face ID. After registering your face on an iPhone X, the user can simply hold a device up to their face and get instant access to their home screen, or pay for goods via Apple Pay.
While Face ID is secure enough to authenticate Apple Pay purchases, the facial-recognition software on many Android smartphones has been deemed as not safe enough for use with banking or mobile-payment applications.
Still, many Android devices host several biometric security options; what’s more, users can register several different options at once, or have set them to different functions. For example, a user can set facial recognition to unlock a device, but use fingerprint scanning to authenticate purchases.
Some devices also have secure folders or allow for alternate accounts, where users can house sensitive information, like data pertaining to their work. Biometric features can be used to access these areas even after devices owners have logged into the main part of their smartphone.
Facial recognition in smartphones is starting to catch on. Aside from the iPhone X and Galaxy S8, other recent devices that include facial recognition include the Galaxy Note 8, LG V30, OnePlus 5T, HTC U11, Huawei P10, Moto G5, Xiaomi Mi 6, and Xiaomi Mi MIX 2.
Iris scanning is much more common on smartphones than many consumers may realize, primarily because the feature has been included on many obscure devices and some released overseas. Some of the first smartphones to feature iris scanning include the Fujitsu NX F-04G and the Microsoft Lumia 950, both which released in 2015. Samsung also introduced the feature on its ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 back in 2016, and later on the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8 in 2017.
Like facial recognition, iris recognition lets users register their irises on a device; to unlock their phones, users just hold their handsets up to their face and align their eyes with the scanning frame. Like facial recognition on many Android smartphones, iris scanning is also considered not secure enough to authenticate banking and payment-related applications. It is essentially available to satisfy user preference.
On devices like the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8, users can register both iris scanning and facial recognition, but can only set one of the biometric options at any given time, in addition to the fingerprint scanner. Users must also have a pin, password and pattern-security measure set as a backup in case any or all of the biometrics options fail.
It is interesting that voice recognition as a biometrics option isn’t widely available at a time when several big brands like Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft are pushing voice-activated hardware and software assistants. Still, the products and technology are readily available for consumers.
The LG V30 smartphone includes a voice-unlock feature called Voice Print, which lets users set a phrase that the phone can recognize and unlock on command. Voice recognition is also ingrained into the Android operating system, through its Smart Lock settings. Users can register their voice for use with Google Assistant and then enable the “Unlock with Voice Match” setting on their Android smartphone.