Apple Works on Solutions to Overcome Smartwatch Ban Threat
Apple Inc. is urgently working on resolving the imminent ban of its smartwatches in the U.S., set to take effect on Christmas Day. The ban follows a dispute with Masimo Corp. over patent infringement related to the blood oxygen level measurement feature on Apple Watches. Apple engineers are developing software changes to the algorithms responsible for measuring blood oxygen levels, aiming to modify the technology’s functionality and data presentation. The company is focused on avoiding a direct confrontation and exploring potential workarounds, such as a last-minute veto from the White House or technical fixes.
The ban, imposed by the International Trade Commission (ITC), specifically targets Apple’s Series 7 and Ultra 2 smartwatch models. Apple is preparing its stores for the change, removing promotional materials featuring the banned models and ceasing sales on its website by December 23. While the dispute could be resolved through a settlement with Masimo, Apple is currently prioritizing software adjustments to meet regulatory requirements. The ITC ban poses a significant challenge to Apple’s smartwatch business, impacting one of its major revenue streams in the home country.
Despite Apple’s focus on software modifications, the heart of the dispute lies in hardware-related patents, particularly in how light is emitted into the skin for blood oxygen measurement. Masimo has asserted that a software fix is insufficient, insisting that hardware changes are necessary. The ban involves import restrictions, making it impossible for Apple to sell the affected smartwatches in the U.S. To navigate the situation, Apple plans to submit a workaround to the U.S. Customs agency, pending approval to re-enter the market.
The blood oxygen measurement feature, introduced with the Series 6 Apple Watch in 2020, became a crucial health and safety tool during the COVID-19 pandemic. Apple has used health-related features to drive the success of its smartwatch lineup, contributing significantly to its overall revenue. The company’s internal testing process for software changes is extensive to ensure that adjustments do not impact other smartwatch functions. In a scenario where hardware modifications are required, Apple faces a timeline of at least three months to produce and ship new models, excluding customs approval time.
The White House has the authority to veto ITC decisions, and the U.S. Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, is reviewing the case. Apple is seeking reprieve to avoid the ban, emphasizing its role as a significant contributor to the U.S. economy. The outcome will shape the future of Apple’s smartwatch business and its ability to navigate legal challenges affecting its product lineup.