The Apple Watch ban saga has taken another turn, and it’s one that Apple is not at all happy about. In an unprecedented move, Apple has confirmed that it's now selling revised versions of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 in the US without their now-banned blood oxygen features, starting today (January 18).
These new versions of the Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 go on sale from 6am PT today from the online Apple Store and in physical Apple Stores today, too. Apple said in a statement to 9to5Mac that the move is "pending an appeal" and that "we believe the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit should reverse the USITC’s decision".
Despite Apple's protestations, a U.S. appeals court has rejected Apple’s bid to pause a ban on the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2. The ban was enacted after the International Trade Commission (ITC) deemed Apple’s watches infringed on blood oxygen patents held by medical tech firm Massimo, with the result that Apple is unable to sell any smartwatches containing the feature in question.
The feature has been patched out in a software update, and Apple has not had to make any costly hardware changes. That means the feature could potentially be re-enabled in the future if subsequent court rulings go Apple’s way. Apple has also explained that affected Watch models that were already sold before the appeal court’s ruling will be unaffected and will be able to continue using the blood oxygen feature, as will those sold outside the U.S.
A serious setback
The Apple Watch is unlikely to lose its place as the best smartwatch you can buy, even without this prominent feature. But nevertheless, it’s a situation Apple is clearly unhappy about, and one that the company is hoping will be reversed sooner or later.
The company has updated its website with a prominent banner noting the absence of the feature. Despite Apple’s disagreement with the decision, it’s likely that it will have to keep the blood oxygen feature disabled for the foreseeable future, as the company has said that it thinks the appeals process could take over a year.
While the feature has been nixed, we wouldn’t expect Apple to remove the blood oxygen sensors themselves from the next Apple Watch, which is due to launch this September.
If Apple’s appeal is successful then it will want to re-enable the feature as soon as possible, and it won’t be able to do that if the sensors are absent. Besides that, physically removing them would require updating its manufacturing processes for what might be just a temporary setback, which would be hugely expensive and inconvenient for Apple.
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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.