Samsung is planning a one-two punch this Spring with the release of its Galaxy 5S and a refresh of its so far underwhelming Galaxy Gear smartwatch. The Korean company’s attempts to get out ahead of Apple on both smartphones and smartwatches fizzled a bit in 2013 as sales for the Galaxy 4S slowed with the release of the iPhone 5S and the original “clunky” Gear smartwatch remained leaden. A report this week from Bloomberg suggests an April release for the Samsung combo, which should have Apple’s iPhone and iWatch teams working overtime.
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The most striking hint in the Bloomberg report was a quote from CES of Samsung EVP Lee Young Hee regarding biometrics. “Many people are fanatical about iris recognition technology,” Lee said in Las Vegas. “We are studying the possibility but can’t really say whether we will have it or not on the S5.” Whether Samsung is anywhere near being able to get iris recognition into a phone is questionable, but this posturing is clearly meant to one-up Apple’s fussy TouchID technology that debuts in the iPhone 5S. The mere suggestion is enough to get Apple watchers going, and I anticipate concept designs for the Apple Fantasy Prototype League (#AFPL) to incorporate this feature any day now.
To bring this down to earth, I have not seen any examples of Iris scanning technology in a for factor small enough to fit in a smartphone—even a phablet. The Myris, an iris scanner from EyeLock Inc., which my colleague Connie Guglielmo witnessed at CES this week, is the size of an old, round Macintosh mouse and will retail between $200-300. If you compare the internals of this product to the TouchID chip/sensor module in the iPhone the difference in size and weight must be at least a factor of 5, so there is a long way to go to get it into a phone.
That being said, iris scanning is reported to be 150 times more accurate than fingerprint scanning (based on the number of false positives.) And with the eye there are no physical variables (like worn hands or wet skin) that make the scanner unresponsive as it is all too often with the iPhone’s TouchID. The combination that Samsung is teasing of a smartphone and smartwatch tethered together and unlocked by your eyeball is indeed compelling. Will it be there for the April release of the Galaxy 5S? Highly unlikely. Will Apple be able to shoehorn it into the iPhone 6 tethered to an iWatch this year? Unlikely too. But that doesn’t mean that the wheels of the popular imagination won’t start spinning in that direction.
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