Biometric authentication is nothing new with mobile devices, or technology in general for that matter. The TPM platform on Windows PCs has been around for ages, and even some feature phones (mainly those produced by Fujitsu for Japan) had it well over a decade ago. With respect to Android however, the stepped-up security staple has been of a generally less-than-impressive affair. Both Motorola and HTC tried it several years ago and suffice to say, nothing caught on. After the mainstream consumer’s attention was suddenly “alerted” to the technology via Apple’s iPhone 5s however, Samsung was first to step up to the plate and let Android have another stab.
Unfortunately, the authentication seen in the Galaxy S5 was a much more traditional method of fingerprint reading, namely that the sensor required a swipe (similar to the Windows TPM and Fujitsu feature phone products) and had a less-than-perfect track record when it came to accuracy. Software updates made the problem a little better, though even the newer module seen on the Galaxy Alpha and Galaxy Note 4 released later in 2014 were hardly what one might say as a stress-free experience.
The release of the Galaxy S6 has brought with it not just a major redesign for the hardware and software, but also the fingerprint sensor as well. Samsung’s implementation of a touch-based input method this time around works fantastically. Granted it’s still not perfect (neither is Apple’s) but with a few tricks and tips at hand (more on that later), it’s possible to have it read your print correctly over 95% of the time, if not 99%.
The problem now, however, is an ironic one. The sensor in the Galaxy S6 works so well that you actually want to use it, and in doing so, it becomes that much more cumbersome to use any other form of security, namely passwords and patterns. Despite my tablet remaining at home 95% of the time, it still has pattern unlock set up, as have all my tablets in the past as well. So frustrating was it to be bothered with entering the pattern each time the screen turned off that after about a day, I disabled the security entirely. Even when I was testing out the Chinese Galaxy Note 4, I found the pattern unlock to be downright irritating. Sure the device has fingerprint security avalible, but it just works so badly that I simply couldn’t put up with it. The same also held true for the few days I spent with the LG G4 last week: the Knock Code is too time consuming.
Of course, if you haven’t spent time with the Galaxy S6’s fingerprint sensor then it’s quite plausible that pattern unlock won’t bother you at all. Heck, I never minded it. Even the iffy fingerprint sensor in the Note 4 might be OK for those with nothing else to compare it to. But for me, hands down, anything less than the hardware in the S6 simply comes off as inferior.
Vast implications (for me, at least)
It needs to be clarified that as a tech writer, my device habits are not in any way reflective of mainstream customers, or perhaps even enthusiasts. If someone has the Galaxy S6 for example, it’s quite logical that what I am about to say won’t be a valid point of reference. Likewise, if someone prefers another device (like the Xperia Z3+) then the point is also lost. Still, it must be made: After just a few weeks with the Galaxy S6, I have trouble considering any other phone as a valid replacement, literally because of the absence of a fingerprint sensor.
Consider just for a second, how many times you unlock your device in a day. Obviously those users who have a screen timeout setting of 2 minutes, or who don’t have any security lock period will be far less bothered. For those of you like me, however, in any given 10 minute period, your device usage might consist of this:
I’m listening to music and want to change albums. I want to see if a System Update is available. I want to check my Hotmail account (which is set to pull, not push). I want to make a quick memo. I want to upload a picture to Google Plus. I want to check my schedule for the next day. I want to activate Silent Mode.
These are just 7 perfectly valid examples of why I might unlock my phone. Now imagine unlocking the device each time with a pattern. Or even worse, imagine doing it with a 7-digit password or numerical sequence. How much wasted time is involved? How easy is it to just activate the power, place my fingertip over the Home Button for just a second, and its unlocked, and with basically no errors.
For those interested in improving the accuracy of their Samsung Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge fingerprint sensor’s accuracy, perhaps the best advice is to select one (or two) fingers that you will use exclusively to unlock the device, and setup all four of the available readings to the designated digits. I, for example, had originally registered four different fingers to the sensor, but it often missed reading them on occasion. After I set two different print reads for my left thumb alone (the first being all vertical, and the second being split between left and right horizontal orientation about 50:50), things improved to what I would argue is 99% accuracy. I repeated the process with my right thumb.
If you are comfortable with just registering one finger however, you could technically set up all four reads to ensure the most accurate reading possible. You could have one stored file for each 90-degree position your finger could possibly scan the button.
Security risks and shortcomings
While I have spent a great deal of time extolling the virtues of fingerprint sensors, it must be said that they are not an absolute form of security. Just as how a pattern unlock sequence can be “stolen” by looking at the oil residue on the phone, so too could a fingerprint be lifted from the device, or literally anything for that matter, even a photograph should the resolution be high enough. And, unlike the pattern unlock which has literally no value outside of Android, a fingerprint can be an absolutely damning piece of incriminating evidence or even proof of legal registration.
It also needs to be said that even the Galaxy S6’s fingerprint sensor can’t do the impossible. If you have even the slightest bit of water or dirt on your finger, there is a large chance the scan will result in an error. In one typical instance, I had just washed my hands, hastily dried them, and tried to unlock the phone a few seconds later. Access was not granted, and when I checked my finger, indeed it had a small droplet of water or two that had got on the sensor and caused the error. Likewise should the biometric reader get scratched or damaged in any way, the error rate will increase if not become absolute.
An eye for detail
One possible increase in safety, security, and sanity could be the iris-scanning technology that Fujitsu has placed into its “brick-sized” Japan-only Arrows NX. Having tested it out at a local docomo store, I was generally impressed by the accuracy of the reading, at least from the dozen-or-so times I tried it out. Unfortunately the actual scan itself takes a bit of time and is therefore much more cumbersome than simply holding down your finger… or drawing a pattern. This is something that can be improved with future software (or hardware) updates however, and thus I wouldn’t necessarily see it as a death toll for the tech.
On the other hand, it needs to be said that in addition to having pitifully bad eye-sight, I wear brown-colored contact lenses. This is in part because I like darker eyes, and in part from awkward experiences with Japanese people “mystified” by my true blue-green color. Why mention this vanity confession? Simple: the lenses have a “fake iris” on them. I literally scanned the contact lens, and that alone is great cause for concern. Assuming the manufacturer has a single design for the pattern on the lens, anyone who buys the same brand that I do could have “my” eyes. The security implications are quite grave to say the least. This isn’t some kind of high-tech Minority Report-type scheme here; it’s not even as complex as creating false fingerprints from a magnified image.
After doing a bit of research, there seem to be conflicting reports of the biometric authenticity with respect to colored lenses. Some reports suggest or claim the technology is now advanced enough to read “beyond” and see the intricacies of your true iris, however other reports indicate that there are limitations imposed by colored contacts. The question is just how accurate or advanced the sensor in Fujitsu’s latest smartphone is. As a personal experiment, within the next week, I will attempt to go back to a docomo store and see if I can get permission to try and experiment with the Fujitsu phone: to scan my eyes with the lenses, then see if I can unlock them without, and vice-versa.
Focus on the future
Regardless of whether-or-not people are excited about the security benefits of biometric authentication, there is one major reason they should care about it: expedience. Many smartphone users opt to go without setting a password or pattern to unlock their device simply because they don’t care, they don’t want the hassle, or they don’t realize the risk of theft and what that might entail. Including some form of advanced authentication that is integrated into a basic movement or gesture is the key. In the past, companies like HTC, Motorola, and even Samsung have managed to make a mess out of the fingerprint feature. With the Galaxy S6 however, Samsung has made a huge advance in the functionality factor, as the reader works so much better than that of last year’s flagships.
In my honest opinion, I feel that well-implemented biometric security elements should be a core feature of smartphones from today onward. What do you think however? Are you satisfied without it? Leave us your comments below and let us know.
Move over Knock Codes and fingerprint scanners, Japan’s NTT DoCoMo has unveiled its new Arrows NX F-04G smartphone that uses iris scanning as its security method of choice. The novel smartphone was announced on Wednesday in Tokyo and was developed by Fujitsu.
Not only can the iris scanner be used to unlock the phone, but it is also integrated to authorize mobile payments. The device works with authentication specifications set by the FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) Alliance, which is supported by Microsoft, Google, PayPal and others.
To save their profile or begin a scan, users simply look at two animated circles on the screen. The scan time takes one or two seconds, making it a tad slower than a fingerprint scanner or traditional pin, but not by enough to make it difficult to use. Fujitsu said that the error rate for the bulkier prototype is about one in 100,000, and the actual product should be even better.
The Arrows NX F-04G also comes with some other high-end technologies. It features a 5.2-inch WQHD (2560×1400) display, 21.5 megapixel rear camera, and a 3,120 mAh battery, housed in a modest form factor that weighs just 155 grams. The smartphone will be release in Japan at the end of the month with a price tag around ¥55,000 (US$460), making it the first handset to hit the market with this technology. However, it won’t see the light of day outside of the country.
We may well see more iris scanning technology in future smartphones, as ZTE has already also shown off a similar eye-based unlocking system with its Grand S3 and Samsung filed a patent for its own iris scanning technology last year.
The common objection to using your phone for purchases is that any sufficiently-motivated criminal could lop off your thumb and go on a spending spree. That’s one of the reasons why Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo and Fujitsu have teamed up to unveil the Arrows NX F-04G. The pair say that it’s the world’s first smartphone with iris recognition technology that can be used to both unlock a device and certify mobile wallet payments.
Spec-wise, the Arrows NX F-04G comes with the usual complement of specs, a 5.2-inch QHD screen, Android 5.0, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of built-in storage. Of course, such a device isn’t likely to make its way over to the west any time soon, but if the iris scanning features work as promised, we may see it pop up in other devices soon. That is, unless, even more motivated criminals decide that they’re comfortable doing Iridectomies on the sidewalk…
Filed under: Cellphones
Smartphones and tablets are no strangers to the limits imposed by heat-constraints. Without proper airflow and limited space for cooling components, mobile devices are stuck balancing CPU clock speeds and component placements to avoid shortening hardware life through overheating. Even so, mobiles today are known to become a little warm when running at full speed.
However, Fujitsu has a solution in the form of the world’s first loop heat pipe that measures less than 1mm thick. The principle of a heat loop pipe is quite simple – collect the heat at one end, move the heat to a dissipater via a fluid and then cycle back the cooled liquid to collect more heat. Closed-loop heat-syncs are typically much larger and often require components to pump the liquid around the system, neither of which make existing designs suitable for small form factor mobile products.
To accomplish this on a smaller scale, Fujitsu designed a porous copper evaporator with holes etched into multiple 0.1mm layer sheets. When stacked together, these layers maximise heat transfer between the metal and the liquid, and creates a capillary action which causes the fluid to circulate throughout the system. The result is a structure that can transfer five times as much heat as current thin heat pipes, without the need for an external pumping system.
The benefits are that SoC components can run a little cooler and heat can be spread throughout a device more evenly, preventing hotspots that are bad for components and that can be uncomfortable for the user.
Unfortunately, Fujitsu is still prototyping the cooling system, improving the design and looking at ways to cut costs for mobile products. A practical implementation is scheduled for fiscal year 2017.
Taxi companies aren’t pleased with Uber and Lyft, but they could be making way better use of ride-sharing technology themselves, according to researchers. A study by MIT and Fujitsu examined why cabs are usually underutilized, but never available during surge periods when you need them. To combat that, they developed on-demand tech that automatically assigns vehicles three possible operating states: taxi, ride-sharing and fixed-route modes. Customers could choose one of those when they order a ride, and immediately receive the boarding times and fares, which would vary by mode. That could save passengers a lot of money, and a test on Tokyo roads resulted in operators making 80 percent more profits too. Fujitsu’s goal is to see it operating in Tokyo by 2016, but it might take some convincing to get it adopted more widely. Still, why not beat the upstarts at their own game?
Microsoft isn’t just supporting White House’s ConnectED education program by lowering the cost of Windows — it’s also giving schools the cash they’ll need to buy Windows PCs. The company is donating $1 billion to make sure that students have the tech they’ll need for both getting online and learning technology skills. The funding comes alongside a new device pricing program that should make the PCs more affordable — to start with, it’s offering sub-$300 systems from Acer, ASUS, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, Panasonic and Toshiba.
The company isn’t shy about having a commercial incentive behind its generosity; its Education CTO, Cameron Evans, tells CNET that there’s a hope that kids will become loyal Windows fans down the road. However, he adds that any eventual sales are secondary to the more immediate focus on improving education. The influx of cash should reduce the technology gap for less fortunate students, many of whom could miss out on digital learning without a little help.
[Image credit: Getty Images]
With all of the talk surrounding smartphones and tablets, it’s sometimes easy to forget that desktops still occupy most of our working days. Fujitsu hasn’t forgotten them, however, and is wheeling out a pair of all-in-one units that’ll accompany you on the 9-to-5. The Esprimo X923 comes with a 23-inch 1,920 x 1,080 IPS LCD and a wide variety of build-to-order options, including a choice of Core i3 – i7 CPUs, HDD or SSD and up to 16GB RAM. It’s so far, so Fujitsu, but the company is also trumping low power active mode, a sleep state that’ll keep the hardware on and connected to your network, but drawing so little power that you don’t actually need to turn it off. The other model that’s been outed today is the X923-T, which, as you can guess, is exactly the same as the 923, but with a touchscreen. Both are available from today, so it’s high time that you started sending flattering emails to your company’s purchasing manager.
Filed under: Desktops
For all the popularity of fingerprint scanners, Fujitsu believes that it can go one better. The Japanese company has been working on palm-based systems for the last few years, and we’ve already seen turnstiles, wallets and tablets that are accessed from your hand. Fujitsu believes that palm vein sensing is around a thousand times more secure than conventional biometric methods and it’s implementing the technology in its next range of business-focused laptops due out this week. We’ve been shown around some of these models, which have the new sensor fitted into an area that is roughly the same size and position as the company’s existing fingerprint scanners, just below the bottom right corner of the keyboard. Using it is simple: Hold your hand a few inches above the sensor and the hardware will quickly scan the unique arrangement of your veins. If it judges you to be the real deal, it’ll open up its secrets for your enjoyment.
Of course, your biggest objection to that would be that, if some nefarious type wanted to get at your Amazon account, all they’d have to do is grab a sword and lop off your hand, right? Turns out, biology has provided us all with a built-in failsafe. Fujitsu’s technology only works while blood is flowing through your veins, so your lifeless limb can’t be used to breach the wall. Having seen this technology in action, we’re reasonably sure that it’s ready for prime-time, and we’re excited to see if this as fool-proof as Fujitsu claims. Even if it is, however, the easiest and least messy way to access someone else’s login will always be to ask them — an approach that worked just fine for Edward Snowden.
Sharif Sakr held his hands in the air (like he just didn’t care) for this report.
Filed under: Laptops
Since Fujitu’s prototype Haptic Sensor Tablet revealed yesterday is all about touch, describing it will be like trying to explain how a steak tastes. But here goes: it works by emitting ultrasonic vibrations below the touchscreen, which can be pulsed with varying force on any region of the screen. Those oscillations actually push your finger off the surface of the tablet and, depending on the force, can give different tactile sensations. For instance, a high pressure layer of air can reduce friction, making the surface of the screen seem slippery. By contrast, rapidly varying the pulses can make the display seem rough or even bumpy.
At least, that’s the theory. After trying it, we found some illusions like the slippery surface to be very convincing, for instance. But the rough texture sensation feels more like the screen is just sticky, and the bumpy experience is even less convincing. When touching the crocodile skin, it just felt like I was moving my finger over slippery and then clingy patches. There’s also a strong buzzing sensation, which is mildly disconcerting. All that said, though, it was still a lot of fun, and it’s hard to see how you could get much more realistic than that with a smooth, 2D surface. There’s a video after the fold showing it in action, but we apologize for the occasionally poor sound quality — as you’ll see, each time the haptics activated, it messed up our camera’s microphone.
Filed under: Tablets
Fujitsu’s evidently so impressed with how its luddite-friendly Stylistic S01 smartphone has performed in France, thanks to a deal with local carrier Orange, that it’s ready to start plugging a follow-up handset. Only, the company doesn’t have a clue on specifics just yet, but we’ll award a few points for enthusiasm, we guess. All we know of the Stylistic S02, assuming that’ll be the device’s name, is that it’s “expected” to wield NFC and LTE chips, an “energy-saving display” and a processor of the quad-core variety. Plans are to launch the smartphone aimed at “mature users” in a number of European locations this autumn. Not a lot to talk about, we know, but Fujitsu had to announce something phone-related at MWC. Otherwise, people’ll just think it makes tablet concepts with scaly touchscreens.