NTT DoCoMo launches smartphone with iris unlock feature

Japanese mobile carrier NTT DoCoMo has released a smartphone that can be unlocked with a mere glance.

The Arrows NX F-04G, unveiled Wednesday in Tokyo, is billed as the first commercialized smartphone with iris authentication technology, which can also be used to authorize mobile payments.

Iris scanners make it easier to unlock phones than keying in a PIN, which can be forgotten or stolen. Authentication takes a second or two, a bit slower than fingerprint authentication, and is based on patterns in the iris that are unique to each individual.

The device works with authentication specifications set by the FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) Alliance, which is supported by Microsoft, Google, PayPal and others.

DoCoMo’s phone is made by Fujitsu and based on a prototype iris scanner that was demonstrated at Mobile World Congress in March.

While the prototype phone had a slightly bulky attachment at the top of the handset, the F-04G looks like many other slim Android phones, with a 5.2-inch WQHD display and weighing 155 grams. It also has a 21.5-megapixel main camera and 2.4-megapixel secondary camera, NFC capability and a 3,120 mAh battery. It’s capable of 225Mbps downloads.

Users must first register their iris pattern by staring into two animated circles in an app. The pattern is stored in the phone itself. To unlock it, users can hold the phone up and look at it, as if browsing a webpage, and it will authenticate them. Authorizing mobile payments is also done with a quick glance at the animated circles.

The Fujitsu prototype incorporated a high-speed, high-accuracy iris recognition algorithm developed by California-based Delta ID. Fujitsu said the error rate for the prototype is about one in 100,000.

Available in green, black and white, the Arrows NX F-04G is slated to be released at the end of this month in Japan for around ¥55,000 (US$460). There are no plans to sell it outside Japan.

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