The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was unveiled earlier this week with a handful of brand new features in tow, including a waterproof S Pen stylus, as well as iris scanning technology for improved security. For readers who may be wondering, the Galaxy Note 7 does not do away with the fingerprint sensor, but instead it includes the iris scanner as an additional biometrics authentication method. Evidently there have been some questions in regards to how the iris scanner works, and while some details were revealed during the Unpacked event where the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was introduced, other technicalities were missing. Fortunately for those who may want to know more about how the iris scanner works, Samsung has now published a more in-depth press release (and video below) explaining the ins and outs of the new technology.
Each person has a unique iris pattern, not unlike fingerprints, but one of the reasons why iris scanning technology is generally considered more secure than fingerprint readers is because fingerprints can technically be recreated and forged with more ease. However, although no system is infallible, replicating a human iris is an entirely different and much more difficult endeavor. On the other hand, creating a reliable and fast iris scanner for a smartphone wasn't an easy task – at least judging by the fact that other smartphone makers have previously tried to introduce the technology without much success. However, Samsung is a very resourceful company and the new iris scanning technology does sound a lot more promising than what we've experienced before. Technically speaking, the iris recognition technology inside the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 relies on two main components, namely an infrared (IR) LED and an Iris camera, which work together to capture a user's iris pattern. The process is as follows: once a user registers his or her iris with the device, the data is safely stored as an encrypted code in the hardware by Knox, similar to how Samsung's fingerprint readers store their data. When a user attempts to unlock the phone or access additional content safely gated by the iris scanner, the IR LED and iris camera work side by side to capture the user's iris pattern and compare it with the encrypted code to verify its validity.
The system is pretty smart in that, it should function in well-lit areas as well as in low light conditions, largely thanks to the IR LED which captures infrared images with clear patterns, unaffected by the user's iris color or the ambient light. In addition, the technology can also rely on the light emitted from the smartphone's display in order to allow the iris scanner to receive more accurate data in low light conditions. According to Samsung, all of these technologies put together "ensure that iris readings are accurate and speedy", so much so that they "require fewer registration trials and results in fewer false acceptances than fingerprint scanning". In other words, iris scanning is more secure, but whether or not it will be more convenient or faster than the fingerprint scanner remains to be seen. The iris scanner setup screen informs Galaxy Note 7 owners that they should remove their glasses or contact lenses before using the scanner in order to improve its effectiveness, so given a few limitations, it might not become the security option of choice for some users.