Apple is seemingly preparing to remove one of the Apple Watch’s central features.
The company is preparing an update that would take the blood oxygen feature from new Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 devices, so that they can go back on sale and get around a ban on the products.
New Apple Watches disappeared from sale over the Christmas period, as part of a dispute between Apple and health technology company Masimo. That dispute led to a judgement from the US International Trade Commission, which banned sales of the Apple Watch and led them to be removed from stores.
Since then, Apple has been granted a stay against the ruling and the Watches are back on sale at Apple stores and elsewhere. But that measure is only temporary and Apple has been searching for a way to put the Watches back on sale more permanently.
Now the US Customs agency has decided that a “redesign” of the Watch is enough to get around the restrictions, according to 9to5mac, which cited a letter from lawyers for Masimo. The update is in fact a tweak to the Watch that means the blood oxygen sensor will not be in use.
For now, however, the Watches are still on sale and the blood oxygen sensor is working on both new and existing devices, and Apple is still appealing the ruling . If the update comes, it is not expected to change the pulse oximetry features on those existing Watches, which were not affected by the ban.
Pulse oximetry, or blood oxygen sensors, are able to examine the blood through the skin and understand how saturated it is with oxygen. That in turn can be used to check whether the user may be experiencing medical problems.
Apple introduced the blood oxygen sensor with the Apple Watch Series 6, in late 2020. At the time, Apple marketed it as a central feature of the new watch.
“Blood oxygen saturation reflects both the environment you’re in - whether you’re at high altitude for example - and how well your body is able to take oxygen in and deliver it through the blood,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, in an interview with The Independent soon after the launch. “It is a powerful signal about you and your wellbeing.”
Since then, however, Masimo has argued that Apple’s blood oxygen sensor infringes its patents on the technology, as well as making other accusations against the iPhone maker. The two have been locked in lengthy legal disputes ever since.