Apple could still rescue the Watch 9 and Ultra 2 from a ban with rare software fix

Two Apple Watch 9 models
(Image credit: Apple)

It’s been a dramatic few days for the Apple Watch, with the shocking revelation that the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 could be entirely banned from sale in the U.S. right before Christmas. Now, though, it’s emerged that Apple is desperately working on a software patch to avert disaster – but will it be enough?

That’s the question looming over the Cupertino company right now. According to Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, Apple is working on “software fixes and other potential workarounds” that might put a stop to the Apple Watch ban.

Specifically, Gurman says the company is “racing to make changes to algorithms on the device that measure a user’s blood oxygen level.” This is a feature that litigant Masimo has argued infringed its patents, which is what led to the ban in the first place.

In this case, Apple is apparently working to adjust “how the technology determines oxygen saturation and presents the data to customers,” Gurman says. Whether it will be enough to enable Apple to continue selling its smartwatches on home soil, though, remains anyone’s guess.

The Apple Watch ban explained

A person looks at an Apple Watch on their wrist. The device is warning them that they have a high heart rate.

(Image credit: Apple)

What is the whole furore surrounding the Apple Watch? Well, as noted above, Masimo Corp. has accused Apple of infringing some of its health-related patents. 

Crucially, the International Trade Commission (ITC) has agreed, placing a ban on any imports of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 to the U.S – vital since the Apple Watch is manufactured abroad. These bans will affect Apple’s online store from December 21, with brick-and-mortar locations following suit on December 24.

It seems that Apple believes its software tweaks will be enough to placate regulators. Yet interestingly, Gurman notes that “the patents at the heart of the dispute are mostly related to hardware.” Masimo Corp. itself has said it doesn’t think a software fix will be enough.

If that proves to be the case, Apple will need to implement hardware changes. That could take at least three months, Gurman says, given the need to produce and ship the new models. Add in the time needed for the U.S. customs agency to approve the changes and we could be looking at a significant delay.

If the ban goes ahead, it won’t be a total blackout. The prohibition only affects Apple directly, so third-party stores like Walmart and Best Buy can continue selling the Apple Watch. The White House might also issue a last-minute veto. Whatever happens, it’ll make for fascinating viewing – we'll update you as soon as anything changes.

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Alex Blake
Freelance Contributor

Alex Blake has been fooling around with computers since the early 1990s, and since that time he's learned a thing or two about tech. No more than two things, though. That's all his brain can hold. As well as TechRadar, Alex writes for iMore, Digital Trends and Creative Bloq, among others. He was previously commissioning editor at MacFormat magazine. That means he mostly covers the world of Apple and its latest products, but also Windows, computer peripherals, mobile apps, and much more beyond. When not writing, you can find him hiking the English countryside and gaming on his PC.