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February 27, 2024

Apple Removes Blood Oxygen Tool from New Apple Watch Models to Avoid US Import Ban

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Jan 17, 2024

Apple has decided to remove the blood oxygen measurement feature from its latest Apple Watch models – the Series 9 and Ultra 2 – in order to avoid a US import ban.

Background

The blood oxygen sensor in Apple Watches has been the center of an ongoing legal dispute between Apple and medical device maker Masimo. Masimo sued Apple in 2020, alleging that Apple infringed on Masimo patents related to blood oxygen monitoring technology.

In October 2022, the International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that Apple infringed on Masimo’s patents and issued an import ban on Apple Watches with the blood oxygen measurement feature. Apple was given 60 days to remove the feature before the ban took effect.

Apple appealed the ITC ruling, arguing that banning Apple Watch imports would hurt consumers. But on January 17th, a federal appeals court reinstated the import ban while Apple’s appeal is considered.

Apple Removes Blood Oxygen Sensor

Faced with the reinstated import ban taking effect on January 18th, Apple decided to remove the blood oxygen measurement capability from the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 models destined for the US market.

Apple was originally expected to disable the blood oxygen app on existing Apple Watch models via a software update. However, it appears Apple chose to redesign the new Series 9 and Ultra 2 models to physically remove the pulse oximeter sensor which enables blood oxygen measurement.

By removing the infringing sensor hardware, Apple likely avoids violating the terms of the import ban. Analysts predict that this move will allow Apple to continue selling the latest Apple Watch models in the US while it appeals the ITC ruling.

Key Facts about Blood Oxygen Monitoring on Apple Watch:

- Added in watchOS 7 via new Blood Oxygen app and sensor
- Measures blood oxygen saturation percentage (SpO2) 
- Can take spot checks and background readings
- Feature became subject of Masimo lawsuit in 2020
- ITC import ban ordered Apple to disable feature by Jan 18, 2024

Impact of Sensor Removal

Eliminating the blood oxygen measurement capability from Apple Watch models sold in the US may degrade their capabilities as health monitoring devices.

Blood oxygen data can provide useful health insights, especially for detecting respiratory conditions or changes in fitness levels over time. Apple itself has touted the importance of blood oxygen monitoring for health and wellness.

However, most core Apple Watch functionality for fitness tracking and detecting conditions like atrial fibrillation should remain intact without the blood oxygen sensor. Users still have access to heart rate data, ECG readings, sleep tracking, and more health metrics.

The removal of this single sensor will disappoint some users focused on holistic health insights. But it likely won’t dramatically reduce the appeal of Apple Watch for most consumers compared to leading competitors like Fitbit which also lack blood oxygen monitoring.

Importantly, Apple Watch models sold outside the US are unlikely to be affected by the sensor removal at this time. Only US imports are impacted by the ITC import ban.

What Happens Next

While removing the blood oxygen sensor from US-bound Apple Watch models allows Apple to avoid immediately violating the import ban, the legal battle with Masimo continues.

Apple plans to appeal the reinstatement of the ban in order to eventually restore full Apple Watch functionality for US consumers. But the appeals process could still take months to reach a final conclusion.

In the meantime, Masimo will likely try to prevent Apple from selling any Apple Watch models with blood oxygen measurement capabilities in the US until the patents expire in 2024. Ideally, Apple will be able to overturn the ITC import ban well before then. But the company may be forced to sell partially-crippled Apple Watches in the US throughout 2024 based on the ongoing litigation.

Apple is also facing additional pressure from Masimo to disable blood oxygen monitoring in other territories like the UK and Europe where Apple Watch sales are currently still unaffected. Expanding the impact of the import bans globally could drastically increase the urgency for Apple to settle this matter out of court.

Conclusion

Removing an entire health sensor from the latest Apple Watch models demonstrates Apple’s desperation to keep its smartwatch available to American consumers during this legal fight with Masimo. It’s an extreme workaround that highlights the massive stakes involved.

Apple will work aggressively to overturn the import ban in hopes of restoring full Apple Watch functionality. But if the appeals process drags on, Apple may be stuck providing partially-limited Apple Watches in its second biggest market for most of 2024 or longer. That outcome would certainly frustrate Tim Cook and Apple executives.

In the end, this entire saga illustrates the massive ripple effects that intellectual property disputes can trigger when contested patents relate to flagship consumer technology products generating billions in revenue. Apple will certainly learn from this experience when approaching sensor and health measurement innovations in future devices.

AiBot

AiBot

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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