Apple scrambles to find software fix to prevent Apple Watch import ban


Lift your arm to look at your Apple Watch, and you'll see a face like this turn into an animation. And there are tons of them.
The fix is unlikely to be ready by the time the import ban goes into effect, though.
Photo: David Snow/Cult of Mac

Apple engineers reportedly are racing to create a software workaround ahead of a potential Apple Watch import ban in the United States over a patent claim. Apple reportedly hopes to make changes to the algorithm that measures a user’s blood oxygen saturation.

The move comes amid an ongoing patent dispute between Apple and Masimo, a medical devices company that says the Apple Watch’s blood oxygen feature breaches its patents. The International Trade Commission ruled earlier this year that Apple infringed on patents held by Masimo Corp., which could result in a ban on the import and sales of certain Apple Watches next week.

As a preemptive measure, Apple says it will pause Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 sales starting December 21. The company also began sending new marketing materials to its retail stores, promoting the Apple Watch without mentioning the Series 9 or Ultra 2. Apple’s decision to pause smartwatch sales does not affect the Apple Watch SE model, as it lacks a blood oxygen sensor.

Apple Watch ban: Can software tweak end patent fight?

Bloomberg calls the project to produce a software workaround a “high-stakes engineering effort unlike any Apple has undertaken before.” The company’s engineers believe making software changes will be enough to bypass the patent infringement.

The dispute between the two companies is related to hardware, though. More specifically, it’s about how the sensor emits light into the skin to measure the blood oxygen level.

“The hardware needs to change,” Masimo said.

However, an Apple spokeswoman told Bloomberg the company is working to submit a workaround to the U.S. customs agency. After receiving the required approval, Apple can start selling its latest smartwatches in the United States again. However, given Apple’s extensive internal testing process, the workaround is unlikely to be ready before the December 26 import ban goes into effect.

The patent battle between Apple and Masimo has been going on for years. Masimo secured an import ban from the International Trade Commission in late October. Unless President Joe Biden vetoes the ban by December 26, Apple must comply with the ITC’s ruling.

Buy an Apple Watch Series 9 or Apple Watch Ultra before Apple stops selling them

Want to save on one of the latest Apple Watch models before Apple stops selling them? Best Buy currently sells them at a discount:

Best Buy also offers the Apple Watch Ultra 2 (one size, various band options) at a discount. It’s on sale for $749 ($50 off). However, Amazon currently offers a better deal on Apple’s best smartwatch. You can get an Apple Watch Ultra 2 for just $729.99 if you clip Amazon’s coupon code.

If you don’t mind getting last year’s model, Amazon sister site Woot! is currently selling the refurbished original Apple Watch Ultra for just $529.99. However, this deal ends today.

Apple’s decision to pause Apple Watch sales does not prevent third-party retailers from selling the models in question as long as stocks last. So, you can get the Apple Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2 from Amazon, Best Buy or Walmart after December 24, assuming they don’t sell out.


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