If you’ve ever dreamed of unlocking your phone by speech, you may soon get your wish. Google’s Trusted Voice, a new unlocking method for Android devices, is reportedly rolling out to a handful of users with smartphones running Lollipop. It appears as a new entry in the Smart Lock settings, the umbrella menu for contextually-aware security features.
Trusted Voice lets users unlock their smartphone by uttering the phrase “OK Google.” It relies on your unique voiceprint to prevent others from doing the same — no matter how many times your friend yells the aforementioned magic words, it’ll never unlock.
At least in theory. A disclaimer accompanying Trusted Voice warns that the feature is “less secure” than the traditional pattern, PIN, or password alternatives. Specifically, it says someone with “a similar voice” or “a recording of your voice” could unlock your smartphone.
That should go without saying, but the disclosure was probably prompted by precedent. Face Unlock, a key feature of the 2011 Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, let users unlock their phones with facial recognition, but could be easily foiled with pictures of the device owner’s face. Google later added a “liveness check” which requires blinking.
Then again, Trusted Voice may soon be old hat. ZTE’s Grand S3 sports a retinal scanner that’s faster than pattern-based unlocking. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sense ID platform can identify skin sweat pores, check blood flow, and see inside the ridges of your finger. And Elliptic Labs is developing an ultrasound-based gesture sensing that could be used to implement swipe-based security. How’s that for futuristic?
Google itself isn’t putting all of its eggs in one basket. Trusted Devices, another Smart Lock feature, prompts for a PIN only when your smartphone isn’t paired to a particular Bluetooth accessory, and Trusted Places keeps your handset unfettered at your designated work and home location. On-body detection, a relatively recent addition, uses data from your smartphone’s sensors to keep it unlocked only when it’s in your pocket.
Sadly for those jumping at the bit to try Trusted Voice, there isn’t a way around Google’s Byzantine rollout system — the switch appears to be on the server side. Until then, Face Unlock will have to do.