Apple Watch drops blood oxygen features to dodge the import ban

The blood oxygen feature is about to disappear from new Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 devices. While Apple itself has not released a statement or responded to our request for comment, both Bloomberg and 9to5Mac are reporting that the feature will be going away and that US Customs and Border Protection has approved the measure, which would allow Apple to consider selling both products after their sale was banned last year.

The Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 were both banned in the US late last year as the result of a patent dispute with medical device maker Masimo. The International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that the blood oxygen sensors in both devices infringed on patents from Masimo.

In the weeks since, Apple has scrambled to make changes to the watches in an attempt to avoid Masimo’s patents. Customs was tasked with determining whether the company’s proposed changes were enough, and according to a letter from Masimo’s attorneys published by 9to5Mac all parties appeared to agree on the new plan to remove the feature from the Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2.

“Apple’s claim that its redesigned watch does not contain pulse oximetry is a positive step toward accountability,” Matt Whewell, director of Global Communications at Masimo, told The Verge via email.

Mark Gurman at Bloomberg additionally reports that modified watches have already been shipped to Apple retail stores, but that the stores have been instructed not to sell the modified watches until they receive word from corporate.

For now, the feature appears to still be active on watches already sold and Apple spokesperson Nikki Rothberg told The Verge via email that the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 would continue to be available with the feature (though she did not clarify how long that would be the case). So, it’s unclear exactly what all this means for Apple Watch owners and prospective owners.

Given the sheer confusion you might want to carefully check the notes before applying any update to your watch, and maybe continue to hold off buying a new Apple Watch if the blood oxygen feature is really important to you.

Update January 15, 2024 3:49 PM ET: Added comments from both Masimo and Apple.

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