Biometric authentication looms large in the summer handset line-up of Japan’s NTT Docomo. With Fujitsu, the operator unveiled what it claimed was the world’s first smartphone with iris recognition. And it also paraded three handsets — two from Samsung and one from Sharp– boosting fingerprint authentication. All are now on sale.
In the accompanying presentation, Docomo explained how users can use biometrics instead of conventional passwords to access some of its online services, such as music and games, as well as to authenticate payments via carrier billing. Initially users can use biometrics via a phone’s browser, and later it will also be possible via apps.
The Japanese operator also announced it joined the board of Fast IDentity Online (FIDO) Alliance, the organisation driving the effort to standardise password-less online authentication, and adopted the FIDO 1.0 specification.
Separately, Qualcomm announced that Docomo was the first operator to adopt and implement its Snapdragon Sense ID platform for biometrics, which is supported in its Snapdragon 810 processor, in the Fujitsu and Sharp models.
Docomo of course is hardly the first player in the mobile market to show an interest in biometrics. Apple and Huawei, for instance, most recently embraced fingerprint technology in devices.
In addition, others have tested biometrics as a means for establishing the identity of users at the point of sale in shops or restaurants, not just for carrier billing. The attraction in the latter use case is to decrease the time to clear a transaction.
Indeed, the biggest boost to mobile payments from biometric authentication might come from not using a smartphone for establishing a user’s identity at all but instead relying on some remote means to do it. For instance, if a user’s eye, or face, is automatically scanned – and an order placed – as they enter a cafe then transaction times would be really sped up, no doubt alongside an increase in privacy and security concerns.
This sounds like nirvana for retailers and others but, in reality, another layer of security might be required to be on the safe side. So if a user’s identity is established via an iris scan then they might be asked to supply a password or PIN too.
Docomo said in the future that it wants to deploy other biometric technologies on smartphones, in addition to finger and iris. It did not specify what forms at its press event. Given FIDO also supports voice and facial recognition then both appear possible.
Quizzed by Mobile World Live, Docomo said no decision had been made but agreed both looked promising. So it looks like more biometrically-enabled smartphones are on the way.
While biometrics has always felt like the future, it’s mostly in an old-fashioned way. The technology feels familiar from the movies rather than reality, the way touchscreen technology did before it was everywhere. Or rather, before Apple made it popular.
The Cupertino giant already backs fingerprint authentication on its recent devices. Maybe the future for biometrics is finally now.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.