Apple Says It Will Remove a Health Feature From New Apple Watches

Apple said on Wednesday that it would begin selling its flagship smartwatches without the ability to detect people’s blood-oxygen levels.

The tech giant will drop the feature starting Thursday after losing a patent case over its blood-oxygen measurement technology two months ago. The court ordered Apple to stop selling its Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 devices. Rather than discontinue sales, the company sought permission to continue selling the devices after removing the infringing technology.

People who buy a new watch in the United States will still see Apple’s Blood Oxygen app on the devices, the company said. But if they tap the app, it will say the feature is no longer available.

The change won’t affect smartwatches currently in use. People with Apple watches capable of detecting their blood-oxygen levels can continue to use that feature, Apple said. The Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 will also continue to offer an array of other features, including the ability to track runs, set timers, and detect falls and irregular heartbeats.

The International Trade Commission found in October that several Apple Watches had infringed on patents held by Masimo, a medical technology company in Irvine, Calif., that helped pioneer some pulse oximeter technology. It issued a ban on the import of Apple’s watches, which are made in Asia.

“We strongly disagree with the decision,” an Apple spokeswoman said in a statement.

Apple appealed the ruling but on Wednesday lost its effort in court to delay a ban on sales of its watches until the appeals court rules on the dispute. As a contingency, it had received approval from U.S. Customs to continue selling the watch after making technical changes to remove the infringing technology.

The compromise would be a temporary blow to Apple’s efforts to increase the utility of its watches by adding health features. In 2018, the company won approval from the Food and Drug Administration for its watches to begin to measure heart rates through electrocardiogram tests. It subsequently added abilities to detect falls, crashes and blood oxygen levels .

The new features pushed Apple deeper into the world of medical devices that is dominated by companies like Medtronic and Abbott. Masimo had secured several patents over pulse oximeter technology, which measures the percentage of oxygen that red blood cells carry from the lungs to the body.

In court, Masimo said Apple had discussed acquiring the medical device company but instead chose to poach top Masimo executives and employees. In 2020, Apple introduced its first watch with pulse oximetry.

The next year, Masimo took its complaints that Apple stole its technology to the International Trade Commission. The appeals court is expected to make a ruling this year.