Wearable Tech World Feature Article
April 30, 2015

Apple Watch Not Working? Check Your Ink

It wasn't long ago that some discovered that the Apple Watch's durability wasn't quite all it was cracked up to be, as the device's glass face couldn't survive a four-feet drop onto concrete in a recent video. But a new wrinkle has shown up to make the Apple Watch look a little less reliable; a report from CNN Money suggests that, for those who have tattoos on the wrist, some of the Apple Watch's functions may not work well, if at all.

The CNN Money report notes that, for those with wrist tattoos, it can interfere with the measure Apple takes to allow the Apple Watch's heart rate sensors to do its job. The back of the watch, according to reports from Apple, fires pulses of infrared and green light from the rear of the watch face, which should contact the skin. The pulses in turn are either absorbed or reflected, and the rate of reflection gives the Apple Watch an idea of the user's heart rate. Solid-colored tattoos—especially those colored red—have a tendency to absorb both the infrared and the green pulses, which means the Apple Watch heart rate monitor gets a skewed reading, if any reading at all.

A report also emerged from a Reddit user that suggested that tattoos interfered with another function of the Apple Watch: the locking mechanism. It should normally disengage when it discovers it's being worn, but for tattooed skin, the lock doesn't disengage. The user who noted such happened even went on to note that shifting the device to a portion of the wrist that is not tattooed caused the locking mechanism to disengage normally. A move to a tattooed portion, meanwhile, caused it to lock anew. Some reports even suggest that tattoos can interfere with everything from the ability to receive notifications to the ability to use Apple Pay.

It would be easy to take Apple to task over this, because this isn't the first time an Apple product has developed some strange quirks around its launch date. Some no doubt remember Steve Jobs' seemingly exasperated suggestion that users “...avoid holding it in that way...” when the iPhone 4's reception would fail seemingly for no reason, later connected to how people held the device near a metal band that served as the device's antenna. It's probably safe to say that Apple didn't even consider the idea of testing for tattooed wrists. Indeed, no one can test a device under every circumstance, so issues like these largely can't help but come up. But this poses a key point; Apple needs to not only make this mistake right, it also needs to address the matter in the future such that mistakes like this don't factor in. Warnings to users, or new means of establishing contact will prove necessary down the line. Perhaps an ear clip, or a way to extend the infrared / green emitters to a different part of the arm will do the job.

Still, most people aren't likely to see a problem with this, and for those that do, hopefully there can be some kind of reasonable fix. Apple may not go bankrupt losing the wrist-tattooed section of its market, but few companies can afford unhappy customers, and the negative word of mouth that often follows.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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