Google announces 'personal unlocking' to help eliminate Android PINs

Google I/O Android L personal unlocking smartphone

Dave Burke, an engineering director at Google, shows off the new personal unlocking feature.

Credit: Mark Hachman

We all secretly despise fiddling with PINs and patterns to unlock an Android phone, but we do so for security's sake. Google's new "Android L" developer release will contain a new feature that uses what the phone knows about you to eliminate it.

Dave Burke, an engineering director for Google's Android team, appeared on stage at the Google I/O conference on Wednesday to introduce the new unlock mechanism. "If you're one of the 50 percent of people with a PIN or pattern lock, you waste many minutes per day with that fiddly task of unlocking that PIN," Burke said. "So we figured there had to be a better way."

Google calls it "personal unlocking," and it allows the phone to determine whether it's in a trusted, safe environment. It taps into what the phone knows about you and its location: whether it's in a user's hand, for example, or sitting near the user on a table.

The technology will allow you to designate locations that are safe and check them against the phone's location; see if any expected Bluetooth devices are nearby; or even check for your unique voice print.

In a demonstration, Burke held up a phone that detected his Bluetooth watch and unlocked itself when he swiped up—no muss, no fuss. But when he removed the watch, the phone could no longer see the watch and locked itself down, asking for a PIN.

It may not be the most earth-shaking feature in the long run, but it's one of those nifty little things that makes your life easier. Let's hope it works as advertised.

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