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Apple Watch update enhances wrist detection for tattooed users

While most updates focus on adding new features or fixing bugs, the latest watchOS 10 beta release has caught the attention of a niche community—users with tattooed wrists.

The tattoo dilemma

Tattooed wrists have long posed a challenge for the Apple Watch’s wrist detection technology. The device’s sensors often struggled to recognise tattooed skin, affecting the performance of the gadget.

This is because, like most wearables, they rely on photoplethysmography (PPG) sensors. This tech uses light to gather biometric data. Tattoos can interfere with the light’s reflection back to the sensor, leading to inaccurate or inconsistent readings. This is particularly problematic for features like wrist detection and heart rate monitoring, which depend on reliable sensor data.

Apple has even confirmed this on its support pages.

“Permanent or temporary changes to your skin, such as some tattoos, can 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,” it writes.

The good news is that the latest beta in WatchOS 10 appears to have made significant strides in addressing this issue. Users on Reddit have reported that their Apple Watches now reliably detect tattooed wrists. Although the exact changes are not documented, it’s speculated that adjustments to the laser settings or sensor calibrations may be responsible for this improvement.

If you are keen to explore this update you can download the WatchOS 10 beta. Just make sure to install the iOS 17 Beta on your phone, as well. Alternatively, you can wait for the public release of both on September 18th. That’s probably the easier solution.

The response from the tattooed community has, so far, been overwhelmingly positive. However, it’s worth noting that the experience isn’t universally flawless; some users are still encountering intermittent issues.

Typical solutions prior to the update

Before the beta update, tattooed users of the Apple Watch had to navigate a maze of workarounds to make the most of their devices. For example, many opted to disable the ‘wrist detect’ feature. This avoids the problem of auto locking of the Apple Watch when wearing it on a tattooed wrist.

For those seeking more nuanced solutions, epoxy bottle cap stickers have emerged as a popular hack. These $10 stickers, placed on the watch’s sensor array, are an inexpensive way to improve wrist detection and sometimes even heart rate monitoring.

Alternatively, users could opt for chest straps such as the Polar H10 or Polar OH1 – for heart rate data during workouts. These straps provide a more reliable reading. Plus they don’t work from the wrist.

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Other form factors also offer some respite. Smart rings are less affected by tattoos and provide a range of tracking features. Whoop is another possibility since it can work from multiple positions.

While these workarounds are effective to varying degrees, they often require users to compromise on either the device’s functionality or their own convenience. So not ideal.

Final thoughts

The watchOS 10 update, although not a major overhaul, signifies a meaningful advancement toward inclusivity in wearable tech. The update has effectively addressed a long-standing issue that disproportionately affected tattooed users, enhancing the device’s usability for this specific group. Those who once considered laser removal of wrist tattoos for better device compatibility might now find that step unnecessary.

This might be one update the tattoo removal industry would rather you didn’t know about. If you have friends in the tattoo removal business, maybe skip sharing this update.

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Ivan Jovin

Ivan has been a tech journalist for over 7 years now, covering all kinds of technology issues. He is the guy who gets to dive deep into the latest wearable tech news.

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