In a strategic move to navigate an ongoing legal dispute with medical device company Masimo, Apple has decided to remove the blood oxygen feature from its latest Apple Watches. The decision aims to enable the continued import and sale of these devices in the United States. The modified versions, namely the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2, are set to be available for purchase starting Thursday, as confirmed by Apple in a recent statement. Both models were initially introduced in September.
Upon tapping the blood oxygen icon on the modified watches, users will now see an alert directing them to an explanation on Apple’s website, as outlined by the company.
The intellectual property clash between Apple and Masimo has been ongoing for months, with the International Trade Commission ruling in October that Apple’s watch sensors for blood oxygen infringed on Masimo’s patents. This led to a temporary ban on the affected watches in December, though Apple secured a brief reprieve. However, on Wednesday, an appeals court lifted an injunction, allowing the ban to take effect. It’s important to note that the appeals court did not overturn the ITC decision, which is currently under appeal.
Apple’s decision to remove features from released products is considered unusual, and the absence of the blood oxygen sensor may impact the attractiveness of the device for certain consumers.
An Apple spokesperson, addressing the situation, stated to CNBC, “Pending the appeal, Apple is taking steps to comply with the ruling while ensuring customers have access to Apple Watch with limited disruption. These steps include introducing a version of Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 in the United States without the Blood Oxygen feature. There is no impact to Apple Watch units previously purchased that include the Blood Oxygen feature.”
Apple expressed optimism that the appeals court might eventually reverse the decision, allowing the unmodified watches to return to store shelves. However, this process could extend beyond a year.
In fiscal 2023, Apple reported a substantial $39.8 billion in sales of wearables, encompassing items such as headphones. The removal of the blood oxygen feature reflects Apple’s strategic maneuvering in response to the legal challenges it currently faces.