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Report: Apple Alters Disputed Smartwatches, Avoids US Ban

Apple has reportedly made a strategic move to avoid a U.S. ban on some of its smartwatches.

Facing a ban resulting from a patent dispute with global medical technology firm Masimo, Apple has decided to remove a blood oxygen feature from its Series 9 and Ultra 2 smartwatches, Bloomberg reported Monday (Jan. 15), citing a disclosure by Masimo.

Apple did not immediately reply to PYMNTS’ request for comment.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection approved this change on Friday (Jan. 12), stating that the redesigned smartwatches fall outside the scope of the import ban imposed by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), according to the report.

The potential ban of the products began when the ITC ruled in October that Apple’s devices violated Masimo’s patents related to blood oxygen measurement, according to the report. This led Apple to halt sales of some of its smartwatches just before Christmas.

However, an interim stay allowed the company to resume sales in late December, the report said.

It was reported on Dec. 19 that in an effort to avoid the ban, Apple was scrambling to update its smartwatches by changing the algorithms that measure users’ blood oxygen levels. A Bloomberg report at the time described this as “a high-stakes engineering effort unlike any Apple has undertaken before.”

In an effort to address the issue, Apple developed a software workaround to bypass the patent dispute and presented it to the customs agency last week, per the report. The redesigned watches no longer contain the pulse oximetry technology at the center of the dispute.

While this move allows Apple to keep its watches on the market, it comes at a cost, according to the report. Removing the blood oxygen feature was a significant step, as it was a highly touted feature of the Apple Watch. Analysts suggest that this decision could potentially dent customer demand for the product.

Nevertheless, Apple’s operations team has already started shipping modified Series 9 and Ultra 2 watches to retail locations in the U.S. However, these stores have been instructed not to open or sell the tweaked devices until they receive approval from Apple’s corporate offices.