Why the Apple Watch Ban is Bigger Than It Seems

A surprising setback to one of the best-selling smartwatches.

Apple Watch Series 9
Photography by Raymond Wong

The holidays can be a tough time of year — just ask Apple.

Just after Christmas, a ban on the sales and imports of Apple Watches from the U.S. International Trade Commission went into effect. This major ruling came after a presidential decision to not overturn the ban.

The ban revolves around a complaint from Masimo, a medical tech company, who claimed that Apple infringed on its patent for technology that reads blood oxygen levels. Apple told Reuters that it disagrees with the decision and will be trying to make the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 available to U.S. customers as soon as possible.

If you’re confused about how exactly we got here, we don’t blame you. Here’s everything you need to know about the Apple Watch ban.

The ban revolves around the blood oxygen sensor in the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Series 9.


What Does This Apple Watch Ban Cover?

Even before the ban went into effect, Apple decided to stop both retail and online sales of its Series 9 and Ultra 2 smartwatches last week. You can still buy both models from third-party sellers like Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, or others, but only until these retailers’ current stock dries up. Along with no current sales, Apple isn’t allowed to import any new Apple Watches into the U.S., thanks to the ban.

Luckily, you can still buy the Apple Watch SE since it doesn’t include the pulse oximeter that’s at the center of this entire legal battle.

How Does This Affect Current Apple Watch Owners?

On top of the ban, Apple is reportedly not repairing Apple Watches that fall under the ban and are past the warranty, according to Bloombergs Mark Gurman. As a related issue, Apple won’t be doing out-of-warranty repairs or complete unit replacements, starting with the Apple Watch Series 6 and up to its most recent models.

If you have an Apple Watch that’s still covered by its warranty, you don’t have any reason to worry. However, as of now, once that warranty expires, you’re out of luck if anything happens to it.

An unintentional side effect of the Apple Watch ban means no more repair or coverage.


How Could Apple Fix The Apple Watch Ban?

With this ban recently going into effect, Apple hasn’t found a solution yet. We’re confident Apple is cooking up something, but we’re offering up some speculation on how this could be resolved. The simplest solution for Apple would be to design a software workaround. According to Bloomberg’s Gurman again, Apple was in the process of changing its smartwatches’ algorithms to not infringe on the Masimo patents.

Still, Massimo is likely fixated on the hardware that’s built into the Apple Watches in question, since it’s a sensor that can detect blood oxygen levels. In this case, Apple could potentially remove the sensor altogether, creating a pre- and post-ban Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2. We could see this leading to some intense aftermarket prices for Apple Watches with working blood oxygen sensors.

Finally, Apple could just settle with Masimo in court and find a path forward from there. We’re not patent lawyers, but this would likely include a lot of concessions on Apple’s side. Whichever way Apple decides to go, there’s a good chance that it wants to resolve this sooner rather than later so it can keep churning out its best-selling smartwatches.

There are a ton of health features on the Apple Watch Series 9, but it’s the pulse oximeter feature that’s causing legal troubles.


What are The Next Steps for Apple?

Apple has already filed an appeal of the ITC’s decision, but any legal resolution is bound to take some time. Just consider that this whole saga started in October when the ITC first issued its order to stop sales and imports of the Apple Watches due to potential patent infringement.

If you’re in the market for an Apple Watch, your best bet would be to snap up a model with a blood oxygen sensor from a third-party seller. Otherwise, you could be waiting a while.

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