The Apple Watch may be getting a very unique form of biometric identification.
According to a new patent application, Apple is developing a next-generation heart rate sensor for the Apple Watch that could identify whoever’s wearing it based on individual vein patterns. In essence, Apple Watch wearers could use this biometric identification to seamlessly unlock their device or activate Apple Pay, similar to how Touch ID relies on your fingerprint to unlock an iPhone.
The patent, which was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday and first spotted by AppleInsider, describes using a pulse oximeter on the back of the Apple Watch to determine the vein pattern on the surface of the skin. If the veins match the owner’s pattern the Apple Watch would automatically unlock or verify the use of Apple Pay.
In addition, the patent also mentions versions of this upgraded heart rate sensor that include motion sensors like accelerometers, gyroscopes, and GPS radios. That way the vein matching and verification could be triggered only if an Apple Watch wearer raises his or her hand, for example.
This form of vein matching, also known as vascular identification, has not yet been proven as accurate as fingerprinting, however. According to AppleInsider, there may not be enough vein variances to be able to use this as a biometric form of ID.
Why this matters: Apple routinely files patent applications, but that doesn’t mean that all of them will become real-life features in upcoming products. If Apple does integrate vein matching as a form of ID on the Apple Watch, it would make Watch less reliant on the iPhone’s Touch ID for initial authentication and subsequent Apple Pay verifications.
Some people were disappointed when the Apple Watch Series 2 was announced without cellular connectivity. According to Bloomberg, Apple postponed a cellular model because it resulted in low battery life. Then there’s the issue of having to pay for another cell plan in order to have an Apple Watch that connects to the Internet without a nearby iPhone. This latest patent suggests Apple is looking for other ways to cut back on iPhone tethering for the Apple Watch.