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While holding the watch in the air, the heart rate glance provides a heart rate that jumps around.

How is this possible? The sensor on the back is pressed up against nothing.

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The heart rate sensor on the Apple Watch works by processing signal from two photodiodes. It is designed to have two green LED reflect from the wrist, but readings are likely due to picking up light reflected off another surface.

From Apple:

The heart rate sensor in Apple Watch uses what is known as photoplethysmography. This technology, while difficult to pronounce, is based on a very simple fact: Blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light. Apple Watch uses green LED lights paired with light‑sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through your wrist at any given moment. When your heart beats, the blood flow in your wrist — and the green light absorption — is greater. Between beats, it’s less. By flashing its LED lights hundreds of times per second, Apple Watch can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute — your heart rate. In addition, the heart rate sensor is designed to compensate for low signal levels by increasing both LED brightness and sampling rate.

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