Friday, December 1, 2023

This is the Pixel 2’s secret eye-scanning feature that never was


Google’s Pixel 2 was one of the best phones the company made, but it had the potential to be even cooler. The Internal Archive this weekend shared a prototype of an early Pixel 2 model that was equipped with iris-scanning technology. Google did not ultimately ship the Pixel 2 with an iris scanner, opting instead for its Pixel Imprint rear-mounted fingerprint sensor.

According to the Archive, the Pixel prototype here was a single-purpose one. It was dedicated nearly entirely to testing iris recognition. The front camera is gone, replaced by an infrared unit, and the rear camera lacks LEDs as well. Even the software loaded on the phone is an entirely basic version of Android with nothing but the bare necessities.

(1/4) A very rare Google Pixel 2 Walleye Prototype (EVT-E), with a previously undiscovered Iris Recognition system built into the device. To enroll, you line up your eyes and keep them open. Part of the #internalarchivecollection

— Internal Archive (@ArchiveInternal) October 28, 2022

If Google’s iris-scanning Pixel had shipped, Google’s Pixel 2 would not have been the only phone to come with an iris scanner. Though it was not popular, with phone manufacturers opting for either fingerprint sensors or face unlock, some brands like Microsoft and Samsung did offer the option on their top-end and premium smartphones. Iris scanning on mobile phones had typically been slow regardless compared to alternatives.

Even if Google had shipped a Pixel with iris scanning, it would have been discontinued shortly. Of course, Google’s own facial recognition system, powered by Soli, was discontinued within a generation — though the company has a less secure method it’s placed with the Pixel 7.

The Pixel 2 isn’t the only older Pixel that’s piqued our interest today. The original Pixel has been updated to run Android 13. Not everything works — most notably mobile data — but it’s enough to make one wish Google kept these older devices alive much longer than it currently does. The company currently supports Pixels with software updates for up to three years, which is average for Android phone makers. Though the company’s release speed is certainly laudable, it still falls far short of Apple. The iPhone released alongside the original Pixel still runs iOS 15, whereas the Pixel has long since been discontinued. This Pixel might not be a prototype of some cool feature, but it’s another peek into the road not taken in its own way.

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