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Biometrics on the smartphone: The future of mobile authentication

Recently, Gartner made the prediction that 30% of all companies will use biometrics on mobile devices by 2016, as reported by ZDnet. Biometric forms of authentication are being adopted by mobile platforms specifically for the increased experience and convenience they provide on-the-go users. The question that remains is which biometrics will experience the most rapid and widespread adoption? Amongst the key players are fingerprint, facial recognition, voice biometric, iris, and vein. Brett Beranek offers his insight and prediction for the biometric identifier he envisions outshining the others in the years ahead.

ZDnet recently reported on a prediction by Gartner that 30% of all companies will use biometrics on mobile devices by 2016 (see article here). With smartphone manufacturers embedding fingerprint sensors on their devices, and consumers increasingly adopting biometrics to access their device, it’s easy to extrapolate that enterprises will leverage this same technology to secure access to apps, systems and networks. Why biometrics on mobile, rather on other platforms, such as a desktop or laptop? Gartner highlights that not only can biometrics provide a higher security assurance, but they can provide a much better experience for the end-user, and in the case of mobile, the frustration associated with legacy authentication means (e.g. user name & password) are exacerbated by the form factor and the often mobile context in which these devices are used.

The question then is, which biometric will enterprises, consumers and employees adopt? Fingerprint, facial recognition and voice biometrics are three biometric technologies that are in widespread use today on mobile devices, but firms are working on bringing other biometrics in use such as iris and vein detection.

I believe the answer to this question can be found in another trend, which was highlighted in a report published by Opus Research in January on the enterprise virtual assistant (EVA) market (view report here). In this report, Opus predicts that by 2016, the enterprise virtual assistant market will grow by nearly 500% over 2013 figures. We know from our own experience here at Nuance that demand for conversational virtual assistants has certainly exploded within our Enterprise business. And again because the virtual assistants are conversational, there is a significant shift underway from touch to speech in the modality of choice on the smartphone. So consumers are not only used to speech, but in many cases are expecting it as part of their mobile experience.

Voice biometrics not only provides a significant improvement in security over passwords (see Opus report on security value of voice biometrics), but it is also the biometric that provides the most convenient and natural interaction when it comes to a mobile experience. Your voice not only conveys your intent, it also uniquely identifies you. Scanning your finger or your face is disruptive to your interaction, and feels unnatural. Voice biometrics, combined with a virtual assistant, enables an end-to-end speech interaction that allows the user to experience a truly mobile engagement (hands-free at last!).

Beyond the rapid adoption of virtual assistants, another key trend further supports voice biometrics as the clear winner in the race to replace passwords: the introduction of wearable devices. When we refer to “mobile,” the knee jerk reaction is to think of smartphones. However wearables are set to add a wide variety of hardware devices, such as watches and glasses. These devices can perform many of the same functions as a smartphone, but make passwords impossibly painful to use. Adding biometric sensors such as fingerprint scanning is also incredibly challenging on such devices. Voice biometrics is a natural fit for wearables, enabling hands-free, efficient and secure interactions – such as paying a bill through a banking app – by simply speaking a few words.

One biometric that I think we can all agree on that will not make it in the mobile space is body odor detection (I’m not joking, read the article). Beyond the highly peculiar nature of this biometric, the issue of course is the need to add a scent sensor to your mobile device! This issue with sensors is an important one, and Gartner specifically highlights the need for enterprises to select biometrics that leverage existing sensors within mobile devices. Once again, voice biometrics outshines all other biometric alternatives in this respect. Mobile devices already have a voice biometrics sensor – it’s called a microphone.

With banks, telcos and governments moving forward with voice biometric authentication on mobile apps today, my prediction is that by 2016 voice biometrics will be the most used biometric in mobile devices.

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Brett Beranek

About Brett Beranek

Like you, CX and biometrics expert Brett Beranek – Director Product Strategy, Enterprise – is fascinated by transformative technologies that have a real impact on our lives. With over fifteen years of experience in the customer experience and biometrics space, Brett brings strategic and tactical insights to organizations wishing to deliver a better experience to their customers via innovative security technologies. Prior to joining Nuance, Brett a technologist and entrepreneur by education and passion, successfully introduced several disruptive technologies to the health-care, IT and security markets, including as a partner of facial recognition firm Viion Systems and member of Genetec’s management team, a security firm that transformed the video surveillance market. Brett also currently serves on the advisory board of high-tech healthcare startup GaitTronics. Brett earned a Bachelor of Commerce, Information Systems Major, from McGill University as well as an Executive Marketing certificate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. Brett loves travelling the globe and discovering new cultures with his three kids, Layla, Rayan and Nora and his wife, Tania.