In a stunning turn of events, Apple has begun shipping modified Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Series 9 models without blood oxygen monitoring to US stores. This dramatic move comes as Apple continues its legal fight with medical device company Masimo over alleged patent infringement, (Apple Watch Banned: Series 9 and Ultra 2 Sales Halting in U.S. Over Patent Dispute).
Just today, Masimo announced that US Customs has approved Apple’s software update that removes the disputed blood oxygen feature from the watches. For Apple, this is an extreme “you can’t fire me, I quit” type of maneuver to avoid another sales ban on the popular devices.
Previously, Apple Watches were temporarily banned from import into the US due to the patent dispute. To get the ban lifted and keep selling watches during the busy holiday period, Apple agreed to disable blood oxygen only on those models already imported. Now, Apple is taking the more severe step of removing the feature entirely from newly produced watches.
But Apple isn’t giving up the fight just yet, federal appeals court could still grant a motion to stay the import ban for up to one year as early as tomorrow. If approved, Apple would not need to remove blood oxygen after all and could continue selling watches with the full feature set during the stay period.
This gives Apple critical time to potentially rework the watch hardware or software to avoid infringing on Masimo’s patents. However, if the appeals court rejects the stay, Apple is prepared to immediately disable blood oxygen on all watches to keep them on store shelves this holiday season and beyond.
For Apple Watch users, the big question is whether previously sold models with blood oxygen enabled will also lose the feature in a future software update. As of now, it appears Apple will only remove it from new watches, avoiding a huge backlash from existing customers.
The very public legal battle and software tweak highlight the challenges tech giants face balancing innovation and intellectual property disputes. With Apple’s ambitious health ambitions, the company won’t back down easily. But compromises like this show they have limited options when up against complex patent laws. Consumers are left waiting to see if wrist-based blood oxygen monitoring will return in a future generation of Apple Watch.