Some Tattoos Interfere With Apple Watch, Company Confirms

The company has updated its online Apple Watch support pages to advise wearers of the potential interference of some wrist tattoos when using the device.

smartwatches, Apple Watch, tattoos, taptic engine, wearables

Apple is now confirming that some kinds of wrist tattoos can interfere with the sensors on the back of Apple Watches, causing errant watch functions for affected users. Reports of the problems began in late April just after the April 24 release of the first devices, when some users began reporting their experiences online on various Websites.

The incidents apparently caused Apple to update its online support pages for Apple Watch users on April 29 so the company could add details about possible interference when wearing a Watch on a wrist that is covered with a tattoo.

The device includes a heart-rate sensor on the back of the watch, which touches a user's skin to measure and communicate the wearer's heart rate on the watch face. But many factors can affect the performance of the Apple Watch heart-rate sensor, including changes in the amount of blood flowing through a wearer's skin based on outside air temperature or irregular motions such as those that occur when playing tennis, according to Apple.

"Permanent or temporary changes to your skin, such as some tattoos, can also impact heart-rate sensor performance," the added support notes now advise. "The ink, pattern, and saturation of some tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it difficult to get reliable readings." Those notes were not included in the original version of the support pages.

A work-around is also noted for Watch users who are continuing to have problems with their devices due to tattoos. "If you're not able to get a consistent reading because of any of these factors, you can connect your Apple Watch wirelessly to external heart-rate monitors such as Bluetooth chest straps," the updated support page explains.

An Apple Watch band has to be securely fastened—snugly but comfortable—to a user's wrist for it to work properly, the company explains.

The tattoo issue began surfacing with some Watch owners within the first week of the releases of the devices. A second issue also cropped up quickly as reports of a defective tactic engine component in some devices arose, leading Apple to slow shipments of the devices, according to an earlier eWEEK report.

The heart-rate sensor interference was found to be caused by ink in some tattoos that prevented the sensors from picking up the information they needed to operate properly. Expansive dark tattoo colors appeared to be most problematic for complaining Apple Watch users, the article reported, while lighter tattoo shades don't appear to cause problems for users. To avoid the problems, Apple Watch users can turn off the built-in wrist detection feature, but that makes the device less secure.

Meanwhile, Apple Watch is also being mentioned as having problems with taptic engine components made by a Chinese supplier that are failing after only a short time, leaving the smartwatches without a feature that gives wearers the sensation that they are being tapped on the wrist for notifications. So far, no watches with defective components appear to have been shipped to customers, and Apple does not plan a recall. The taptic engine is an Apple technology that delivers tactile feedback to the wearers to get their attention for notifications.

Apple Watches are already in short supply, with some consumers being told that their watches won't ship until June or July, according to earlier eWEEK reports.

The smartwatches start at $349 for the Apple Watch Sport version, which is available with a silver or space-gray aluminum body and with wristbands in many colors. The standard Apple Watch starts at $549 for a 38mm-wide version or $599 for a 42mm-wide model. Prices for the 38mm version can rise up to $1,049, while prices for the 42mm model can go up to $1,099, depending on the watchband selected. The regular Apple Watch can be purchased with a fluoroelastomer band or one of three different leather bands.

The company's luxury version of Apple Watch is the Apple Watch Edition, with a price tag of $10,000. The most expensive version of Apple Watch, the 18-karat gold Edition version, is priced at $17,000.