Apple fan and a lover of tattoos? That could present a problem according to numerous reports emerging from Reddit and other social media outlets earlier this week.
Apple confirmed the issue late yesterday on its heart rate information/support page.
Permanent or temporary changes to your skin, such as some tattoos, can also impact heart rate sensor performance. The ink, pattern, and saturation of some tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it difficult to get reliable readings.
Early adopters are reporting the Apple Watch seems to have issues with pushing notifications to the user. The issue extends to the heart rate monitoring, one of the prominent features of the smartwatch.
Hey, nothing says smart like a wearable thinking you’re dead.
Where do tattoos fit into the picture? The green light used by Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor is having difficulty penetrating through the darker inks.
Apple decided to use photoplethysmography over other methods of heart rate detection:
“Blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light. Apple Watch uses green LED lights paired with light‑sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through your wrist at any given moment. When your heart beats, the blood flow in your wrist — and the green light absorption — is greater. Between beats, it’s less. By flashing its LED lights hundreds of times per second, Apple Watch can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute — your heart rate.”
Darker inks on tattoos could interfere with how the sensor reads your heart rate, giving you unusual readouts or not detecting skin contact at all.
The issue has already made the leap into ‘does it affect people with dark skin?’ Having a black tattoo is not the same as having dark skin. While Apple may have missed every variance of wrist tattoos, the company didn’t miss testing ethnicities.
Apologies to the click bait sites. You can put the pitchforks down. The watch isn’t racist. It’s just hipster.
Can Apple Fix This?
Apple has already confirmed the issue in its support area, so no. You can’t push an update to make green light penetrate various tattoos. Other options have been tossed around:
Ultraviolet light. This won’t penetrate the skin, so it’s a no go. Red light can penetrate, but can go all the way to the bone. Another no.
The most likely fix? If Apple is sold on photoplethysmography, it could be mixing green and yellow light. The issue is that no system is going to work perfectly.
Apple has billed its watch as a fitness companion and all around ‘special.’ If there’s a hang-up with the technology, the company may have to switch it out.
For now, Apple recommends using a Bluetooth chest strap for accurate heart rate readings. Yeah… More devices?
Just make me bionic.