Apple Watch 3 May Monitor Your Breathing

Apple is getting more serious about turning its Apple Watch into a health-monitoring tool. And based on a patent the company just filed for, measuring your breathing rate could one day be part of the smartwatch's bag of tricks.

Credit: Sam Rutherford/Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Sam Rutherford/Tom's Guide)

As spotted by Patently Apple, Apple has filed a patent for a way to measure respiration rates. Apple's method would use multi-band plethsmography, the kind of word that can leave you out of breath trying to pronounce. A plethysmograph measures volume changes within an organ.

Essentially, Apple's hoping to improve on a current method of grabbing a photoplethysmogram, which measures those volume changes optically. In this case, Apple would use a photoplethysmogram to measure constriction and dilation of the blood vessels, helping it determine respiration rates.

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Pulse oximeters can capture photoplethysmogram signals with a light emitter and light sensor, but routine body movements can disrupt that process. What Apple's hoping to patent is a method that uses two light sensors for more dependable monitoring. You can dig into the science yourself by looking at the full patent application if you have time for a little light reading.

How Apple's approach might work (Source: USPTO)

How Apple's approach might work (Source: USPTO)

Apple doesn't specifically call out the Apple Watch in its patent. But it does note that the sensors outlined in the patent could "be held in a user's hand or strapped to a user's wrist, among other possibilities" so it's not too much of a leap to conclude that this technology would be smartwatch-bound.

After all, Apple seems to have figured out that health and fitness tracking are among the best selling points for its Apple Watch. The watchOS 4 update previewed at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference this month included enhanced workout monitoring tools, and Apple is rumored to be working on adding sleep-tracking capabilities to the next version of the Apple Watch. Tim Cook often talks about the role the Apple Watch can play in monitoring health.

While it may be clear that Apple wants its watch to add more tracking capabilities like monitoring how you're breathing, it's unclear when this particular technology would land on an Apple Watch. The next version of the watch could be unveiled this fall alongside Apple's latest iPhones, but Apple could also adopt a more extended update cycle for its watches, pushing the Apple Watch Series 3 into 2018.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.