Show me your ears: Amazon’s next phone may verify your identity by your ear shape

amazon ear unlock patent news phone to
Shutterstock/Monika Wisniewska
It seems as though we cannot come up with a standard for unlocking our smartphones. We have gone from simple pin codes and passwords, to fingerprint sensors and even iris scanners. Now Amazon wants to use your ears as a means of authentication, but there’s more to the plan than simple unlocking.

Amazon was recently granted a patent that would use the shape of your ear as a means of security and personalizing smartphones or other mobile devices. Apparently, the curves of your ears are as unique as your fingerprints. Mark Nixon, a computer scientist at the University of Southampton, told Wired back in 2010, “When you’re born, your ear is fully formed. The lobe descends a little, but overall it stays the same. It’s a great way to identify people.”


According to the patent filing, users will capture images of both of their ears using the front-facing camera and store them in a personal profile on their smartphone. The phone will then use the sensors on the device to determine if the user is moving the phone towards one of their ears. If so, two images at different angles of the ear will be captured using the front-facing camera to determine if the person is a user of the phone by matching the newly captured images to the user’s saved profile images.

Your ears could be used as means of authentication in that either one would unlock the device the same way a pin code or fingerprint does with today’s smartphones. Unlocking is only part of the plan, as Amazon wants to personalize the device to match the user’s needs. For example, if a user is holding the phone near his or her left ear, the assumption is that the user is holding it with his or her left hand. This would mean that they are likely to want to use the thumb of that hand in a particular area of the display, and onscreen input buttons could be moved accordingly.


Using ears to unlock a device doesn’t appear all that useful in many cases, however, since users would need to hold their phones up to their ear each time they want to unlock it. Using fingerprint and eye scanners are much easier, since the user can keep the phone in the position in which they normally use it, while unlocking the device. The use of ears could be useful for unlocking the device when a call is incoming, but most phones allow calls to be answered even when the phone is locked. It’s also unlikely a call will be coming in the exact moment the user wants to unlock the phone, not to mention that many people are using Bluetooth hands-free headsets these days for calls.

However, Amazon might be onto something with the personalization aspect. Shifting onscreen input buttons depending on how the user is holding the phone does make sense for better one-handed use on larger phones. There could even be a lot more functions that we aren’t thinking about, but it should be noted that this type of personalization could be done with a fingerprint scanner as well.

For example, if a user uses their left thumb to unlock the phone, then it’s assumed they are using their left hand for one-handed use and onscreen input buttons could be shifted accordingly. Or, there could be a software fix, such as a mode for lefties, that moves all the buttons to the user’s preferred side.

The concept of using an ear to unlock a smartphone isn’t new.  It was revealed in April that Yahoo was developing something similar, but that version uses the entire touchscreen display instead of the camera to scan the user’s ear. It’s also not clear whether Yahoo plans on personalizing devices the same way Amazon does.

At this point, we don’t know if Amazon will ever offer this technology in a future smartphone, but it’s unlikely that it will excite consumers much more than Dynamic Perspective did on the first Fire Phone.


Apple loses battle to use Intel modems in Germany in latest clash with Qualcomm

Apple is following the Federal Trade Commission's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.

Here's how you can play your favorite PC games with a Nintendo Switch controller

Nintendo's Switch controllers, including the Joy-Cons and the aptly titled Pro Controller, use Bluetooth, which makes them compatible with your PC. Here's how to start using them for PC gaming.

Charge your smartphone with Anker’s wireless charger pad, now half off on Amazon

A wireless charger can declutter your space and make charging your phone super convenient. Anker is one of the most popular brands and right now Amazon is discounting Anker's 10W wireless charging pad at half off.

Forgot your Android password or PIN? Here’s what you need to do

It’s a horrible feeling when you forget your Android password, PIN, or pattern and can’t access your smartphone. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to gain access to your device. Find out what your options are right here.

Calibrate your display to get it looking just the way you like it

Want to see images the way they're intended to be seen? Here is our quick guide on how to calibrate your monitor using your operating system or another tool, to make what's on the screen look as good as it can.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Coffee Meets Bagel dating app data may have been breached

Are you planning on using Coffee Meets Bagel to find love on Valentine's Day? If you've been using the app for a while, you'll probably want to change your password -- the company said a data breach may have taken place before May 2018.

Exclusive: Take a look at what a next-generation 5G phone will look like

With 5G phones debuting at MWC in mere days, there is discussion about whether they will be clunky bricks that die after a few hours? A reference design from Qualcomm offerrs a glimpse of the future: This is what 5G phones will look like.

Worried about extra data charges? Here's how to check your usage on an iPhone

It's common to get a little nervous about nearing data limits. Keep your peace of mind by checking how much data your iPhone is using. Our guide on how to check data usage on an iPhone helps you stay in control.

North Focals smartglasses discount cuts the price by a massive $400

Canadian startup North is hoping smartglasses will be the next big wearable. After announcing its new Focals smartglasses in late 2018, the company opened product showrooms in Brooklyn and Toronto and has made its first shipment.

New Apple patent hints clamshell-style foldable phone may be in the works

Apple has filed a patent for a foldable phone that suggests the company could be following in the footsteps of the likes of Samsung and Huawei. The patent describes a clamshell-style foldable phone with two separate sections.

Xiaomi Mi 9 will be one of the first phones with monster Snapdragon 855 chip

Xiaomi's next major smartphone release will be the Mi 9, and the company hasn't held back in giving us a good look at the phone, revealing the design, the camera, and a stunning color.

Galaxy Watch Active isn't official yet, but you can see it in Samsung's own app

Samsung may be about to resurrect its Sport line of smartwatches under a new name: The Galaxy Watch Sport Active. Leaks and rumors are building our picture of the device at the moment.

Stop buying old tablets, says Samsung, buy the new Galaxy Tab S5e instead

Samsung has launched the Galaxy Tab S5e -- the E is for Essential -- a reasonably priced tablet that includes many of the features we like from the Tab A 10.5, and the Tab S4. Here's what you need to know.

Bag yourself a bargain with the best budget tablets under $200

The battle for your budget tablet affections is really ramping up. Which tablet, costing less than $200, should be commanding your attention? We take a look at some different options for the budget-conscious.