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The Apple Watch (courtesy Apple)

The new Apple Watch is the pinnacle of technological achievement. Sleek and streamlined, the product boasts a variety of advanced features, enabling users to read texts and emails and monitoring the fitness of its wearers by tracking a wide range of their movements — but it has one crucial design flaw. It’s easily tripped up by a much older and less cutting-edge technology: tattoos.

Users with tattooed wrists have reported that the Apple Watch is incapable of accurately tracking their heart rates. And because the watch requires users to enter a security PIN when it takes itself to have been removed from a wrist, even users who don’t plan to maniacally track their every motion may find themselves inconvenienced and irritated.

The problem stems from the way that the watch detects the wrists of its wearers. The support section of the Apple website explains that the device “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.”

There are ways of working around the problem: users with tattoos can turn off the “wrist detection” feature, as Mashable suggests, or you could purchase a chest strap to measure your heart rate and connect the machine to the Apple Watch via Bluetooth, as The Verge notes. But perhaps the best strategy is to wait until we have technologies advanced enough to outwit tattoos.

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Becca Rothfeld

Becca Rothfeld is assistant literary editor of The New Republic and a contributor to The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Daily News’ literary blog, The Baffler, and...

One reply on “Apple Watches Won’t Work on Tattooed Wrists”

  1. CT scans are unable to read through permanent make up, facial tattoos that act as eye liner or fill in brows. This watch can’t possibly be using that same technology in such a small structure?!

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