Will MacBooks of the future come with heartrate monitors?

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) Side View
(Image credit: Future)

Apple is exploring the possibility of including a biometric heartrate monitor into the palm rest of its new MacBooks, further indication that biometrics are here to stay.

The newly filed patent application describes how a microperforated biosensor in the right palm would shoot tiny beams of light into the skin of your wrist and measure the amount of light reflected back to it. Presumably, this wouldn't be a biometric to use for security, i.e. a replacement for the fingerprint sensor; without any other explanation from the patent, we expect the MacBook would use this sensor to track heart rate for health-monitoring reasons.

This is essentially the same kind of biometric sensor as that in the Apple Watch 6, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, and the best fitness trackers out there - but it would be the first time we've seen something quite like this in a laptop.

Patent applications don't mean that the technology they depict will actually make its way into MacBooks anytime soon. Apple Insider , which discovered the patent, notes that Apple seems most interested in how to fit such a technology into the palm rest. The patent is much less caught up on the details about what kind of sensor is used.

The patent also points out the obvious concern some may have with a pulsating light coming from the palm rest of their MacBook, indicating that a proximity sensor would be used to ensure that measurements are taken only when the user's wrist is fully covering the sensor – so if you're browsing in the dark, you won't get blasted with light searching for heartbeats.

Analysis: biometrics are going to be everywhere

The utility of this kind of technology is certainly interesting, but I'm not sure this is the best use of this space on a MacBook.

While it's certainly worthwhile to give people important information about their health, there are devices for that if people are so inclined. A MacBook just doesn't seem like one of them. 

What's more, real estate in the palm rests is precious territory that seems wasted on something like a heartrate monitor. It'd make much more sense to insert something like a stylus pad (akin to that on a graphics tablet) for creative work than a heartrate monitor - if you are going to use that space for something other than a straight up palm rest.  

John Loeffler
Components Editor

John (He/Him) is the Components Editor here at TechRadar and he is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY. 

Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.

You can find him online on Twitter at @thisdotjohn

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