Apple Watch once again shows skin tone not a new issue for heart monitors

“Troubles with the same kind of light-reflecting technology used in Apple Watch monitors in accurately gauging heart activity in those with dark skin have been documented for decades,” Russ Britt reports for MarketWatch. “Those fingertip heart monitors used in hospitals and doctors’ officers employ what is known as “pulse oximetry” but the technology over the years has displayed problems whenever surface pigmentation is too dark.”

“The way it works is light essentially is passed through the skin to sensors on the other side of the finger to get a pulse or other vital signs. The light may be scattered differently for those with dark skin, a tattoo or other alterations to the skin surface,” Britt reports. “Heart monitors aren’t the only products with these issues. Similar problems have been around for the beauty industry as well. New apps that use photography to analyze a face before using beauty treatments, for example, will encounter the same problem, says Ni’Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist frequently published in InStyle and other beauty magazines. She says the reason is simple. ‘Darker skin tones absorb,’ she said. ‘Black is absorbing all the color while white reflects.'”

“An African-American, Wilson says that American corporations tends to flow with the majority and addresses the issues raised by the critical mass first. In many cases, that won’t be the African-American community but companies do try to deal with issues as they come, if they can. ‘It really comes down to how you can change the absorption,” she said. “I don’t know if they’re the ones to come up with that,'” Britt reports. “A story Thursday in the online magazine Fusion notes, however, that it’s entirely possible Apple had no dark-skinned people testing the watches. Apple products often go through early testing using executives as guinea pigs, but none of those top staffers have dark skin, Fusion says.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Again, as we wrote earlier today:

Potential FUD alert, though, expect to possibly see some attempt by rivals, shorts, etc. to make Apple Watch seem discriminatory toward users with darker skin.

Related article:
Ink Different: Tattoos may interfere with some Apple Watch functions – April 30, 2015


  1. This has nothing to do with the false claim that Apple’s top management not containing people with dark skin (VP Worldwide Human Resources is black) — Apple has tested the watch in all kinds of ways and primitively wrote that the watch as pulse sensor may not work on everyone.

  2. Is this a confirmed problem or a Caucasian journalist who did not bother to test his hypothesis? He may be correct, if Apple used visible light. Light absorption rate for infrared light can be (and usually are) different from visible light.

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