Tattoos might make Apple Watch malfunction

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Using an Apple Watch with a tattoo gives some users a (s)inking feeling. Photo:
Using an Apple Watch with a tattoo gives some users a (s)inking feeling. Photo: Guinne55fan

With a variety of bands, and price tags ranging all the way from $349 – $17,000, there’s an Apple Watch for everyone. Except, possibly, the heavily tattooed.

That’s according to a new thread on Reddit which claims that several tattoo-sporting Apple Watch customers are having trouble using the device, because the wearable’s wrist-detection feature gets confused by the way in which tattoos reflect the green and infrared light emitted by the Watch.

The result? People with tattoos don’t get notifications, unless they move the Watch to an un-tattooed area, or turn off wrist detection. Not exactly ideal for those with full sleeves!

“I thought my shiny new 42mm [Watch] had a bad wrist detector sensor,” writes one user. “The [W]atch would lock up every time the screen went dark and prompted me for my password. I wouldn’t receive notifications. I couldn’t figure out why especially since the watch was definitely not losing contact with my skin. [A]lso I couldn’t find anything online with people experiencing this issue. I was about to give up and call Apple … when I decided to try holding it against my hand (my left arm is sleeved and where I wear my watch is tattooed as well) and it worked. My hand isn’t tattooed and the Watch stayed unlocked. Once I put it back on the area that is tattooed with black ink the watch would automatically lock again.”

As a possible explanation, another Redditor writes that:

“Oxyhemoglobin has several local peaks of absorbance which can be used for pulse oximetry: one green, one yellow, one infrared, etc. Apple uses the ones at infrared and green parts of the spectrum. Now, here’s some key facts. Melanin and ink are both equally good at absorbing frequencies over 500nm, which sadly includes the green. But, melanin’s absorbance falls down so rapidly that by the infrared end of the spectrum its hardly absorbing anything at all. That, combined with the fact that Apple adjusts the sensitivity/light level dynamically means infrared is probably black people friendly. Ink has a much more gradual fall off, so even infrared might not work for them.”

While it’s possible to turn off the wrist detection feature, this also stops Apple Pay from working. We’ve reached out to Apple to ask if this is a problem that’s been reported elsewhere, and will update this post when we hear back.

Tattoo-gate, anyone?

Source: Guinne55fan/Reddit

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  • James Alexander

    It would be interesting to see someone in the future tatoo around that area.

  • http://ImpartialGeek.com/ David Foster

    OH NO!! Well, I have a tattoo on my wrist, and my watch is indeed not working correctly. It is strange though, because my girlfriend got hers before I did, and before she got her iPhone, so I used it and hers, the smaller version, seemed to work fine for me. What should I do??

    • Prof. Peabody

      There is nothing you can do, although if the tattoo isn’t “all black” like the one in the article (and this is suggested by your post), then the smaller watch, arranged just so, might work.

      It’s possible that Apple might come out with a software fix as it’s down to the frequencies of IR used in the algorithm, but I wouldn’t count on it.

      Your best bet for 100% normal function would be to return your wrist to it’s normal state. In other words laser ablation therapy.

    • ♦[PharLeff]♦

      Tattoo removal my friend… tattoo removal. lol j/k! best of luck man. I’m working on a sleeve right now!

  • http://techshizzle.com/ rsbell

    Wait-how can someone with sleeve tattoos afford an Apple Watch!? They don’t have jobs, right?

    Ha-just kidding!

  • http://kalmichael.com KaL MichaeL

    Glad I am not alone. I am experiencing the same thing, but I mostly tattoos so there is lil options. :/

  • http://kalmichael.com KaL MichaeL

    Glad I am not alone. I am experiencing the same thing, but I am mostly tattoos so there are lil options. :/

  • Andy Simmons

    Hardly surprising. Wrist sensing requires that there is nothing between the watch and the subdermal area. Just as you can’t expect it to work if you’re wearing clothing under the watch, you also can’t expect it to work if you’ve got an opaque layer of ink medium under the watch.

    • Djinnjaha

      Waiting for Apple boffins to come out with an app that’ll remove your ink!

  • Frank Garrett

    As if not being able to get a decent job wasnt bad enough, now they can’t enjoy the latest Apple tech, what a shame.

  • http://openendedcreative.com Joseph Roberts

    Reminds me of that episode of “Better Off Ted” when Lem couldn’t be seen by the installed sensors.