Iris Scanning: The Newest Addition to Apple's Biometric Roadmap?

Over the course of the last several years, Apple has begun to take an intense interest in biometrics as a way to improve the security and accessibility of its devices. Apple purchased sensor company AuthenTec in 2012 and quickly incorporated its fingerprint-sensing technology into the Touch ID fingerprint scanner that debuted in the iPhone 5s.

Touch ID marked Apple's first foray into biometrics, confirming user identity via fingerprint, but the company may have much bigger plans in mind for biometric sensors in future devices. Biometrics are said to play a key role in Apple's iWatch, and Apple may even expand beyond fingerprint technology, as the company has reportedly taken a new interest in iris scanning.

iris
While little is known about Apple's investigation into iris scanning, it is a promising biometric technology that's already widely used for identification and authentication purposes.

The Science of Iris Recognition
Each person's iris, or the circular colored muscle of the eye, contains a complex and random pattern that is unique to each individual. Because the differences within irises can be seen from a short distance away, iris recognition can be accomplished by using a high-resolution camera that includes near-infrared light to highlight and capture the structure of the iris.

Once an image (or video) is captured, algorithms can be used to identify the patterns within an iris to determine the identity of an individual. Because an iris is as unique as a fingerprint, it is a highly reliable method of determining identity. The chance of two individuals having the same iris pattern is 1 in 10 to the 78th power and because iris scanners deal with upwards of 2,000 data points (compared to approximately 100 in a fingerprint) an iris scan rarely results in false positives.

During an initial iris scan, the eye is scanned and an encoded representation of the image is stored within a database. Later, when the eye is scanned again, the new encoding is compared to those in the database, verifying identity.

Iris scanning is a newer technology than retina scanning, which required a bright light to illuminate a retina. Iris scanning, which uses both ambient light and near-infrared light, is less invasive.

How the Technology is Used
Currently, iris scanning is largely used for identity verification and has been adopted by several government agencies and major companies. For example, at the Amsterdam Airport in Schiphol, iris scanning is used to allow passengers to cross the border without having to produce a passport.

schipolirisrecognition

An iris recognition machine at the Schiphol Airport

The United Arab Emirates has been successfully using IrisGuard iris scanning at border crossing points since 2001 and has lauded the technology for being both fast and accurate for identification purposes.

Major technology companies, like Google, use iris scanning technology for security purposes. Google restricts entry to its data centers and its Google X labs via iris scanners. Bank of America also uses the technology at its corporate headquarters in North Carolina, with employees let into the building after an iris scan.

Advancing Technology
Many companies are working on iris scanning technology and some important advancements have been made in recent years. For example, SRI International has developed an Iris on the Move Biometric Identification System that is able to read irises at a distance in many lighting conditions, even while subjects are moving.

Another company, EyeLock, makes several iris scanning products for corporate and home use. EyeLock's recently debuted Myris is designed to be used at home with a computer as a way to replace traditional passwords.

The EyeLock Myris home iris scanning device

Earlier this year, a company called AOptix debuted the Stratus MX, a handheld iris scanner that fits over an iPhone 4/4s to capture both iris scans and fingerprint images, and IriTech has developed a way to incorporate an iris scanner into a smartphone using a single camera.

Apple and Iris Scanning
Iris scanning is a function that could likely be built directly into the iPhone or iPad's front-facing camera. It is impossible to predict how Apple might utilize iris scanning, but based on other use cases, it is likely that such technology would be positioned as way to verify user identity, possibly replacing Touch ID. Like Touch ID, iris scanning could be used as a convenience measure, unlocking an iPhone when an individual's eye is successfully scanned.

Iris scanning could also be used in conjunction with Touch ID, for two-factor authentication that could help Apple turn the convenience factor of Touch ID into a more secure feature that could be used beyond password replacement.

Ultimately, Iris scanning has the same potential uses as Touch ID. Should Apple expand on its implementation of biometrics, both Touch ID and iris scanning could possibly be used as system-wide password replacement and to make purchases or payments (both online and in-store when combined with technology like iBeacons).

Iris Scanning vs. Fingerprint Scanning
While iris scanning and fingerprint scanning are both forms of biometric identification, iris scanning has some notable benefits. Unlike a fingerprint scanner, which requires physical contact with a device, an eye can be scanned from several feet away.

A notable downside to Apple's Touch ID is that it cannot detect moist fingers, a problem that would be solved if no physical contact was necessary for authentication. Ridge patterns on fingerprints can also be affected by factors like cuts and dirt.

In addition to being accurate, iris scanning is also fast. Current iris scanners used for the identification of multiple individuals can process 50 people per minute from multiple feet away as they walk at a normal pace.

Apple's Touch ID can take several seconds to recognize a fingerprint, and it is likely that an iris scan would be both faster and more accurate as it can be done from a distance and while a person is in motion.

Drawbacks
As with any technology, there are drawbacks Apple would need to overcome to add iris scanning to its devices. Most scanners require decent lighting, and an iris scan can be affected by alcohol consumption and eye surgeries, such as the one performed for cataracts.

Iris scanners can also sometimes be fooled by high quality eye images, but some scanners can overcome this with a flash of light designed to make a pupil dilate.

Public opinion is likely the biggest hurdle Apple will face should it implement iris scanning as a means of identification. The company faced scrutiny over the security and storage of Touch ID data and iris scanning could be an even bigger issue as it can be used covertly.

portableirisscanner

A portable iris scanner in use in Baghdad.

Privacy concerns and infrastructure issues have prevented the Department of Homeland Security from installing iris scanners at U.S. airports and the American Civil Liberties Union has also raised concerns about eye-tracking technology, calling it a "privacy threat." According to Jay Stanley of the ACLU, iris scans are more of a threat than other biometrics because they can be acquired at a distance and without a subject's knowledge.

Iris Scanning in Smartphones
In early January, Samsung EVP of Mobile Lee Young Hee revealed Samsung was investigating iris recognition technology for possible inclusion in the Galaxy S5, but recent rumors have suggested the Galaxy S5 will not come equipped with iris scanning, likely due to the fact that the technology is not yet ready for smartphones.

According to a report from The Korea Herald, the technology that would allow iris scanning to be used in smartphones and other portable devices may still be a few years off. An iris scanning iPhone would likely require a higher-resolution front-facing camera that combines the current camera with the iris scanning ability and a near-infrared light. While such technology does exist, allowing a single camera to capture both iris scans and normal images, it remains in the prototype stage.

Anthony Antolino, chief marketer at EyeLock, a major producer of current iris scanners, expects to see the company's technology embedded into smartphones, tablets, and PCs by 2015, replacing user names and passwords.

If Apple plans to continue to pursue iris scanning for a future product, it is unlikely to be included in the next wave of device updates. Iris recognition does, however, appear to have a lot of potential as a technology suited to Apple devices as it could go a long way towards making iOS devices both simpler and more convenient to use.

Top Rated Comments

needfx Avatar
113 months ago
can apple stop scanning my body please?
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Old Muley Avatar
113 months ago
For some reason "Minority Report" comes to mind.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Tankmaze Avatar
113 months ago
Most scanners require decent lighting, and an iris scan can be affected by alcohol consumption
at least this will help when you're drunk text. the phone would stay locked.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Steve121178 Avatar
113 months ago
Eye like the sound of this.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
LordVic Avatar
113 months ago
Allow me to help:

Image (http://i.imgur.com/8zscZUH.png)



Eye'm terribly allergic to puns and will pass out at an—

I love puns.
There has to be a good cornea-copia worth of puns for eyes.
sorry, I deserve 20 lashes for that

Wouldn't want to make a spectacle of it.

I'm just not a pupil of the trade.

I'm closing the lid on this one
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mw360 Avatar
113 months ago
Just before someone claims we're all sheep for suddenly finding this innovative and amazing now that Apple is doing it:

Dear Apple, no thanks, sounds like a lousy idea.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

apple watch ultra hammer test

YouTuber Tests Apple Watch Ultra Durability With a Hammer: Table Breaks Before the Watch

Sunday September 25, 2022 2:27 pm PDT by
A YouTuber has put Apple's claims for the durability of the Apple Watch Ultra to the test by putting it up against a drop test, a jar of nails, and repeated hits with a hammer to test the sapphire crystal protecting the display. TechRax, a channel popular for testing the durability of products, first tested the Apple Watch Ultra by dropping it from around four feet high. The Apple Watch...
AirPods Max 2022 Colors

Ten Things AirPods Pro 2 Tell Us About AirPods Max 2

Saturday September 24, 2022 1:00 am PDT by
Upon the release of the second-generation AirPods Pro, the AirPods Max became the oldest current-generation AirPods product still in Apple's lineup. Introducing several new features like Adaptive Transparency and the H2 chip, the second-generation AirPods Pro may provide some of the best indications yet of what to expect from the second-generation AirPods Max. Almost two years later, rumors...
tim cook spring loaded event

Six Major Products to Expect From Apple in 2023

Sunday September 25, 2022 10:57 am PDT by
As we approach the end of a busy product release season for Apple with only new iPads and Macs left to be announced over the next month or so, we're also setting our sights on 2023. Apple is rumored to have several major products in the pipeline for next year, including new Macs, a new HomePod, a VR/AR headset, and so much more. Other than new iPhones and Apple Watches, which are expected...
Tim Cook Apple Event

Gurman: New iPads and Macs May Be Announced Through Press Releases, No October Event

Sunday September 25, 2022 6:50 am PDT by
Apple may decide to release its remaining products for 2022, which include updated iPad Pro, Mac mini, and 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models, through press releases on its website rather than a digital event, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. In his latest Power On newsletter, Gurman said that Apple is currently "likely to release its remaining 2022 products via press releases,...
apple watch series 7 aluminum colors yellowbg

Don't Want the Apple Watch Ultra or Series 8? Amazon Has Record Low Prices on Series 7 Models This Week

Friday September 23, 2022 6:56 am PDT by
The Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra are now available to purchase, but if you aren't interested in these updates you can save a lot of money on Series 7 models right now on Amazon. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running. The best deals are on cellular...
iphone 14 pro max deep purple

iPhone 15 'Ultra' Could Replace Pro Max Model Next Year

Sunday September 25, 2022 7:02 am PDT by
Apple is gearing up to possibly replace its "Pro Max" iPhone with an all-new "Ultra" iPhone 15 model next year, reliable Bloomberg journalist Mark Gurman said today. Writing in his latest Power On newsletter, Gurman said that for the iPhone 15, Apple is planning a revamped design alongside USB-C and a potential name change. Apple could replace its "Pro Max" branding, which it started to use...
AirPods Pro Second Generation 2 Pairing Feature 1

AirPods Pro 2 Engravings Appear in iOS During Pairing and Connecting

Friday September 23, 2022 9:40 am PDT by
Customers who personalize their second-generation AirPods Pro charging case with an engraving will now have that engraving reflected directly on iOS as they pair and connect their AirPods Pro. Apple allows customers to personalize their AirPods Pro charging case with a special engraving that can include select emojis and Memojis. Unlike before, starting with the second-generation AirPods...
General iOS 16 Feature Yellow

Some iOS 16 Users Continue to Face Unaddressed Bugs and Battery Drain Two Weeks After Launch

Monday September 26, 2022 7:34 am PDT by
Today marks exactly two weeks since Apple released iOS 16 to the public. Besides the personalized Lock Screen, major changes in Messages, and new features in Maps, the update has also seen its fair share of bugs, performance problems, battery drain, and more. After major iOS updates, it's normal for some users to report having issues with the new update, but such reports usually subside in...
14 vs 16 inch mbp m2 pro and max feature 1

New 14-Inch and 16-Inch MacBook Pros Reportedly Launching Later This Year

Friday September 23, 2022 7:08 am PDT by
Apple plans to release new MacBook Pro models in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to supply chain publication DigiTimes. The report does not mention specific models, but it very likely refers to the next-generation 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros given that the 13-inch model was already updated earlier this year. There has been uncertainty surrounding the timing of new 14-inch and...