|A schematic drawing from Apple's heart monitor patent. Numbers indicate areas that could house ECG sensors.|
For several years, Apple has been working on putting heart monitors into mobile devices like its iPhone--but not necessarily for the reason you might think.
The Cupertino, CA, computer giant's original 2010 patent application noted how an embedded ECG sensor could measure the unique electrocardiogram signature generated by each person's heartbeat. It cites the heart monitor's potential as a biometric ID technology--something it's already rolled out with the iPhone 5's Touch ID fingerprint sensor.
Last month, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office granted Apple the patent for a "seamlessly embedded heart rate monitor." The patent includes diagrams showing how the monitor would fit into an iPhone, but there's no word whether Apple actually plans to use the technology in any forthcoming device.
In its patent filing, Apple ($AAPL) also notes the sensor it envisions could determine the user's mood. It says nothing about mobile health or wellness applications. Don't read too much into that, though: If it does decide to include a heart monitor, Apple doesn't need the FDA weighing in. Whatever uses Apple contemplates, keeping healthcare out of its patent application is a wise move.
So far, smartphone-based health has been the province of companies like AliveCor, which makes a portable heart monitor that plugs into iOS and Android smartphones.
The Apple patent describes an ECG sensor, embedded in conductive surfaces of a device, such as the bezel--the conductive ring that surrounds the screen.
"Using the detected signals, the electronic device can identify or authenticate the user and perform an operation based on the identity of the user," the patent indicates. "In some embodiments, the electronic device can determine the user's mood from the cardiac signals and provide data related to the user's mood."
The sensors, Apple notes, can be finished so that they are indistinguishable from the rest of the phone chassis, maintaining a device's aesthetic appeal, making this potential device surely a candidate for the world's best-looking heart monitor.