You know all those spy movies where access to secret rooms is controlled by scanning peoples’ eyes to make sure they’re legit? Well, now there’s an accessory for your computer that does pretty much the same thing. It uses the distinctive characteristics of your irises to authenticate your identity in order to log you into websites, apps and even the computer itself.
This gadget is called the Myris, and it comes from a company called EyeLock Inc. It’s a round, thick, 3.2-ounce palm-sized object with a mirror and a camera on the side facing you. You stare into the little mirror, and the camera right above it scans your irises until the device decides you’re the real deal.
Myris is a combination of a novel biometric scanner and a password manager. It comes with an app that stores your passwords, which it enters automatically when it confirms that your eye scan matches the one the device recorded during setup. The idea is to eliminate typing in passwords, and to allow you to concoct longer passwords without having to remember them.
According to EyeLock, the iris scan Myris performs is more secure than a fingerprint scanner. It stores a code derived from a scan of both of your irises in the device itself — not in the cloud — and doesn’t keep a photo or image of your eyes. The company says its algorithm can detect the difference between live eyes and, say, a photo or video of your eyes.
I’ve been testing the $280 Myris, on both a Windows PC and a Mac, and I found that it does work. But it has some significant design drawbacks. And, in my tests, its performance was mixed.
Myris’s biggest problem is that it must be tethered to a USB port by a long cable. That makes it clumsy to travel with and to use on airplanes. And the device itself is bulky and a bit heavy, which adds to its lack of portability. It would be like traveling with a hockey puck on a cord.
Also, while Myris did work in my tests, on both flavors of laptops, it took significantly longer to authenticate me via my eyes than the company promised, on two different units the company lent me.
The company has answers for these problems. It says the Myris is the first iteration of its eye-scanning authentication technology. It is working on a wireless version. And, more importantly, it is promising that, in the second half of next year, the iris scanner will be embedded in some laptops, dispensing entirely with the need for the add-on gadget.
As for the speed issue, the company attributed that to the fact that it had first provided me with a pre-production unit. So it rushed me a finished Myris straight from the store shelf. This second unit was indeed faster, but still took longer than the promised 10 seconds to perform the initial enrollment of my eyes, and much, much longer than the promised one or two seconds after enrollment for logging into various sites.
The process is supposed to be almost instantaneous, but I found myself wondering when it was going to complete, and was tempted to just manually type in passwords, the very behavior Myris is meant to replace. The company says that my situation is a “corner case,” an unusually difficult one. If so, you may find that Myris is much faster for you, perhaps just as fast as promised.
To use Myris, you plug its cord into a USB port and install the app. Then you enroll — or “set up” — your irises by staring into the mirror while moving the device back and forth, toward and away from your eyes (it has a fixed focus and no moving parts, which makes this motion necessary).
A ring around the mirror lights up in colors to tell you how the process is going. For instance, blue means Myris has detected a live user. Green means success. Red means Myris isn’t recognizing the user.
If you wear glasses, you must remove them for the initial enrollment, but not for subsequent scans. (In my case, I found I had to take off my glasses much of the time to get Myris to stop glowing red.)
After that, when you want to use it to perform a specific login, you first type in your credentials, then stare at the mirror again, and Myris records them.
In my tests, I was able to use Myris to log into a Mac, and into Facebook, Gmail and the Tweetdeck app I use for Twitter. This also worked on my Windows laptop.
However, there are differences between using Myris on Windows and the Mac. It was unable to log in to my Windows 8 laptop, because Myris doesn’t support the use of a Web-based Microsoft account to sign in, even though Microsoft recommends this.
On the Mac, Myris doesn’t work with the latest OS, Yosemite, at all. The pre-production version that I tested first didn’t warn me of this, and in fact locked up the Mac so badly that I had to restore the machine from a backup. The company says the production version pops up a warning to prevent this.
The Myris can store iris profiles for up to five people, so a whole family could theoretically use it.
My bottom line is that — even assuming that my poor experience is unusual — the Myris, in this first version, is a promising technology built into a device that isn’t convenient enough for most people to use all day.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.