Apple Is Forced to Decontent Its Newest Smartwatches

Court upholds the ban on Apple including a pulse oximeter on Series 9 and Ultra 2 smartwatches, forcing the company to redesign those products with that feature disabled.

Spencer Chin, Senior Editor

January 19, 2024

3 Min Read
Apple's Ultra 2 smartwatch will no longer be able to monitor blood oxygen levels.
Apple is redesigning its Series 9 and Ultra 2 smartwatches with their blood oxygen sensor disabled, complying with a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that the sensor violated patents owned by health care products company Masimo. Apple

For the past month, prospective buyers of Apple’s newest smartwatches, Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2, have had to deal with the specter of an import and sales ban on those products due to an ongoing patent dispute between Apple and Masimo, a healthcare products company, over a sensor function that monitors blood oxygen levels. The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled last October that Apple’s latest smartwatches infringed upon two patents for pulse oximeters from Masimo. In December, the ITC moved to impose a ban on sales of those smartwatches that went into effect on December 26.

The ban lasted one day as Apple was able to get a stay until the U.S. Court of Appeals reviewed the case again in mid-January. Well, Apple’s luck has run out for now as the court upheld the earlier ruling.

According to online reports, those buying a Series 9 or Ultra 2 smartwatch from here on in will get a watch without the blood oxygen monitoring feature. Apple is redesigning both smartwatches with that function disabled, displaying a message to the user that the feature is unavailable. While Apple is reportedly likely to appeal the court ruling, the matter is not likely to be heard for at least a year.

The prices of both smartwatches will not drop even though the blood oxygen sensor is disabled, according to reports. Those who purchased either of the smartwatches before this week’s court decision will continue to have the full-featured smartwatch as the oxygen monitoring feature is not being disabled on those earlier models.

Also, as the U.S. International Trade Commission ruling only affects smartwatches imported into the U.S., those sold in other countries will continue to incorporate an active blood oxygen sensor.

Sensor Not Accurate?

While fitness and health aficionados may lament the omission of the blood oxygen sensor, the absence of that feature might not be that much of a loss, according to a report on Yahoo’s Lifewire.  The report quoted Graham Bower, developer of Apple health app Reps and Sets and Apple Watch expert, stating in an e-mail that the sensor, not being medical grade, is not all that useful. The report further states that Apple is unable to use the pulse oximeter technology in a manner that does not violate Masimo’s patents.

PR Fallout and Recovery

The omission of the pulse oximeter may not necessarily be a game changer for those desiring the latest Apple smartwatch, but the bad press surrounding the patent suit and subsequent sales ban is not helping the electronics giant, which has seen its stock price lag in recent weeks.

But there may be a glimmer of hope for the recently troubled company. On Thursday, a report on painted a more optimistic feature for Apple, stating that more iPhone users could be upgrading their smartphones this year as the growth of generative AI places more processing demands on handsets. In addition, the report notes there’s an anticipatory buzz surrounding the pending availability of Apple’s VisionPro AR/VR headset, now expected at the beginning of February.

About the Author(s)

Spencer Chin

Senior Editor, Design News

Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor for Design News, covering the electronics beat, which includes semiconductors, components, power, embedded systems, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and other related subjects. He is always open to ideas for coverage. Spencer has spent many years covering electronics for brands including Electronic Products, Electronic Buyers News, EE Times, Power Electronics, and electronics360. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him at @spencerchin.

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