On Christmas Eve the US Patent Office dropped a present down Apple's chimney: a patent for a “seamlessly embedded heart rate monitor” that might one day allow an iPhone to identify and authenticate a user through the unique signature of the heart’s electrocardiogram (ECG).
As first reported by Apple Insider the sensor could also be used to indicate the mood of the user, perhaps giving Siri the ability to adapt her responses to the user based on his or her emotional state. The patent, which was initially filed in 2009, is one of many Apple efforts to explore biometric security as an alternative to passwords.
There is no reason to think that Apple by itself wants to turn the iPhone into a medical device. It seems unlikely that it will try to compete with AliveCor, which now markets an iPhone- and Android-based ECG monitor as a hardware and software package. As noted by Fierce Medical Devices, if Apple does decide to include a heart monitor in future devices, it “doesn’t need the FDA weighing in. Whatever uses Apple contemplates, keeping healthcare out of its patent application is a wise move.” But it is possible that the embedded hardware could facilitate the development of software applications that would not require a hardware component.
Here is the patent abstract:
This is directed to an electronic device having an integrated sensor for detecting a user’s cardiac activity and cardiac electrical signals. The electronic device can include a heart sensor having several leads for detecting a user’s cardiac signals. The leads can be coupled to interior surfaces of the electronic device housing to hide the sensor from view, such that electrical signals generated by the user can be transmitted from the user’s skin through the electronic device housing to the leads. In some embodiments, the leads can be coupled to pads placed on the exterior of the housing. The pads and housing can be finished to ensure that the pads are not visibly or haptically distinguishable on the device, thus improving the aesthetic qualities of the device. Using the detected signals, the electronic device can identify or authenticate the user and perform an operation based on the identity of the user. 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.