New Apple Patent Could Mean Lasers in Your Next iPhone

Adding more biometric capabilities, environmental monitoring, and more

  • Apple recently filed a patent that could put an array of lasers underneath displays.
  • The company could then use this to improve biometric security and even monitor air quality.
  • Third-party developers could potentially use this tech to create their own unique applications.
Someone using facial recognition technology on a smart phone.

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Apple may add tiny lasers to iPhone and Apple Watch, which could have big implications for smartphone development and overall security.

According to a recent patent filing, Apple is experimenting with horizontal cavity surface-emitting lasers (HCSEL). They sound complicated (and they are), but the technology would essentially allow for an array of HCSELs to be placed underneath the display to monitor biometrics and other environmental factors. There are plenty of other applications for HCSELs, and the potential for developers to explore the technology could result in a wave of new features on your iPhone and Apple Watch.

"More kinds of input options and now world-reading options give those developers even more tools," Dmitri Williams, professor at USC Annenberg told Lifewire in an email. "So, whatever Apple has in mind for uses is one thing, but the really interesting stuff will probably come from the giant distributed intelligence out there among developers."

Apple Has Big Plans for Its Lasers

So what does Apple have planned for these lasers? That’s still up in the air. What’s filed in a patent doesn’t always come to fruition, and they’re often used as a catch-all to ensure every plausible feature is legally covered. In this patent, Apple lays out big potential plans for enhanced biometrics and security features.

An iPhone with the Health app displayed beside an Apple Watch with the Activity Rings displayed.


"Apple wants to make the iPhone and Apple Watch indispensable for security and identity," Mike Feibus, president and principal analyst at FeibusTech, told Lifewire in an email. "The company’s already done a lot—like with vaccine passport records and, more recently, drivers’ licenses. And there’s a lot more to do. The industry has been moving toward single sign-on, password-less entry. And with a locked-down phone that only you can get into, it could be used to open anything from work files and bank accounts to healthcare records."

Security for smartphones continues to be a priority for manufacturers—and the possible reinstatement of TouchID is bound to put a smile on the face of Apple users everywhere.

Biometrics is only one part of the patent, as air quality monitoring is mentioned numerous times in the filing. As a company based in California, where wildfires are a growing public health issue, Apple is no stranger to how air quality can affect your well-being. The ability to glance down at your Apple Watch and get up-to-date air quality data specific to your exact location (as opposed to generalized numbers from a third-party database) could be a staple feature in smartwatches moving forward as much of the western United States contends with inhospitable air conditions.  

"Increasing wildfires have already been linked to degrading air quality in the USA," Rebecca Buchholz, an atmospheric chemist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, wrote in a study published earlier this year. "Our study suggests that smoke-related health impacts that are predicted to worsen with climate change may already be emerging."

Someone sitting in a dry mountainous area looking at an Apple Watch on their wrist.


Apple’s patent could, theoretically, let its products alert you when the air you’re breathing is unhealthy and recommend you take your workout indoors. With air quality a rising concern of scientists and citizens, the feature is bound to get a lot of use.

Exploring the Unknown

Biometrics and air quality monitoring might be the features planned by Apple, but there’s always the chance a third-party developer will come up with a more exciting use for consumers. This patented tech could be made available to developers outside of Apple, meaning they’re free to use the hardware in their own applications.

"The way I think about these things is a bit like what happened when we went from phones with buttons to the slab face of our current smartphones," Williams told Lifewire. "On the one hand, we lost a lot of direct input via buttons. But, they were replaced with a surface that could literally be anything."

"For developers, it meant that any interface was suddenly possible, and so we were liberated from only having keypads," he said. "Think of all of the input types on the surface of phones in apps. As a result, they've invented literally millions of new games and apps."

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