Apple is working on using your voice to unlock your iPhone. For an older generation of hackers, the phrase ‘My voice is my passport, verify me‘ is enough to sum up one of Apple’s latest patents. For everyone else, the US Patent Office has released a batch of patents assigned to Apple, and one of them details a new way of identifying yourself and allowing access to a secure part of the device’s hardware and software. That way is identifying a user from their voice.
Every Apple device can be secured with a PIN code, and in recent years TouchID has been introduced to allow a fingerprint to unlock a device. Patent #9263612 (‘Device access using voice authentication‘) was submitted in March 2011, and talks about a more user-friendly interface to the authentication process of a device. From the patent submission:
Particular embodiments of the subject matter described in this specification can be implemented to realize one or more of the following advantages. A device can include a more user-friendly authentication process for accessing a locked device. A user’s voice can be authenticated at the same time that a voice command is processed; no separate authentication step is required. The device can generate a voiceprint while the user speaks voice commands into the device; no separate speaker recognition training step is required. The voice authentication features disclosed below can provide fast and secure voice control access to any/all features of the device.
‘Hey Siri!’ can unlock a device and users can give permission for some functions to happen before a PIN code or TouchID verification is required. A VoiceID recognition system would negate that requirement. By using someone’s voice pattern, identity can be established at the same time as a command is being issued. That means a voice command to open an application would also be used as the voice sample to authenticate the user. That speeds up the process to unlock the device and creates more utility through a functional process.
TouchID and fingerprint security has made unlocking devices faster than relying on traditional PIN codes. That makes fingerprint unlocking much more prevalent, and the speed of recognition means that there is less friction in applying security to a smartphone. And the more invisible security there is, the better for the users and the hardware ecosystem as a whole.
As always with Apple patents, there are no indications when features will turn up in software or hardware (or if they will be defensive patents, never to show up in original hardware). I think VoiceID is likely to turn up in the near future. I’d be very interested to know if Apple can retrofit this into the existing hardware or oif it requires dedicated electrical pathways on the circuit – much like TouchID has at the moment.
Assuming the latter, VoiceID will only be featured on new devices. Although the iPhone 7 is due in September and could likely see this technology implemented, the vanilla number product launches tend to be more design focused than hardware focused. TouchID hardware was introduced on the 5S, so I’d expect to see VoiceID through hardware as one of the big changes that the iPhone 7S will launch with in late 2017.