Tweaking the flagships: Apple disables blood oxygen feature in new Apple Watches after appeals court ruling

Apple Watch Ultra 2
(Image credit: Future)

In order to continue selling two of its newest Apple Watches, Apple has been forced to disable the blood oxygen monitoring app on both after a recent appeals court ruling. 

That court decision means that starting today, Thursday, January 18, two flagship Apple Watches – Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 – will no longer be able to detect blood oxygen levels. According to a number of sources, including Bloomberg, the court ruling denied Apple a longer delay of the sales ban—a ban imposed by the U.S. International Trade Commission over a patent dispute with Masimo Corp

That court ruling meant Apple had two choices: It could either stop selling the Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 altogether in the U.S. market. Or it could create a workaround. 

Apple chose the latter. 

In order to comply with the ban, Apple chose to implement a software workaround, which we've previously reported on: "As a filing in the case revealed, Apple could ship both models without the contested feature. In fact, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, these “modified” Series 9 and Ultra 2 models had “already begun shipping” to U.S. Apple Stores “in case the appeal fails this week.” 

Apple is now forced to sell "tweaked" versions of its watches that include a disabled blood oxygen monitoring app

Gurman also said stores “were told not to open or sell the tweaked devices until they receive approval from Apple’s corporate offices,” before noting “It’s possible that those models are the new versions without the blood-oxygen feature.”

So, as of today, January 18, starting at 9A.M. ET, Apple will be selling the "tweaked" models on its "retail outlets and online store," according to Bloomberg. (Last week, U.S. customs cleared Apple’s modified or tweaked watches, in which, "the accused feature (pulse oximetry) was removed.") 

Will consumers still be able to see the blood-oxygen monitoring app? Yes. According to The New York Times."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."

What's intriguing to note is that there will still be "untweaked" Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Ultra 2 models available or in use that include functioning versions of the blood oxygen level monitoring feature: Models sold outside the U.S. will still have the feature enabled. Also, models that were purchased before the ban or while the ban was paused will include a working version of the feature. 

Not surprisingly, Apple would like the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to tweak the USITC's decision: “Pending the appeal, Apple is taking steps to comply with the ruling while ensuring customers have access to Apple Watch with limited disruption,” the company said in a statement to Bloomberg. “Apple’s appeal is ongoing, and we believe the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit should reverse the USITC’s decision. We strongly disagree with the USITC decision and resulting orders.”

Terry Sullivan

Terry Sullivan has tested and reported on many different types of consumer electronics and technology services, including cameras, action cams, mobile devices, streaming music services, wireless speakers, headphones, smart-home devices, and mobile apps. He has also written extensively on various trends in the worlds of technology, multimedia, and the arts. For more than 10 years, his articles and blog posts have appeared in a variety of publications and websites, including The New York Times, Consumer Reports, PCMag, Worth magazine, Popular Science, Tom’s Guide, and Artnews. He is also a musician, photographer, artist, and teacher.