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Apple prepping software fix to avoid Apple Watch ban, but it might not be ready in time

Published Dec 19th, 2023 6:50AM EST
Apple Watch Series 9
Image: Christian de Looper for BGR

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Apple on Monday made a surprising Apple Watch announcement considering the timing. It’s the final week of Christmas shopping, and the Apple Watch remains a highly-coveted device. But Apple will stop selling the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 this week to preemptively comply with a ban from the International Trade Commission (ITC). The Biden administration might veto the ban and save Apple, but the company seems ready to comply with the decision.

The ITC found that Apple violated Masimo patents related to technology used to perform blood oxygen readings on the premium models. Apple is reportedly racing to make changes to the software algorithms that allow the wearable to measure the user’s blood oxygen level. But it seems unlikely that the software fix will be ready in time for the December 25th ban date.

If you want a new watch, you had better take advantage of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 deals available right now, ahead of the ban.

Sources familiar with Apple’s problems have informed Bloomberg (via MacRumors) that Apple engineers plan changes to how oxygen saturation is determined and how that information is provided to customers. The updates should remove the technology that is violating Masimo’s patents.

Masimo told Bloomberg that it doesn’t believe a software change is enough to prevent the Apple Watch ban. “The hardware needs to change,” the company said.

An Apple spokesperson told Bloomberg that it’s working to submit a workaround. This indicates Apple believes there’s a way to fix the patent-infringing problem without changing the hardware. Still, any update will need proper testing before it goes through. Therefore, a fix isn’t likely to arrive before the sales have to stop.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 with the Modular Ultra watch face
Apple Watch Ultra 2 with the Modular Ultra watch face Image source: Joe Wituschek for BGR

Apple unveiled the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 models in September during Apple’s iPhone 15 event. It seems highly unlikely that Apple will make any hardware changes to the device. If Apple had to go that route, it might take months to deploy a fix.

The ITC ordered the ban in October. It’s unclear why Apple is racing to fix the issue now rather than having started as soon as the ITC issued its ruling. Maybe the company thought a presidential veto would save it. But that’s just me speculating. 

The simpler route might be licensing the technology from Masimo. But, again, that’s just speculation. And there’s no indication that settlement talks are in order.

If you want to buy an Apple Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2 in time for Christmas, your best bet is getting one from Apple right now. Sales will stop this week both in retail stores and online. Another option is getting one of the two models from Apple’s partners. But they’ll run out of stock there too. The ITC ordered an import ban on the Apple Watch models found to be infringing on Masimo’s patents.

After December 25th, only the Apple Watch SE 2 will be available from Apple. That’s the only Apple Watch model in Apple’s lineup that doesn’t have hardware for blood oxygen readings.

The company will likely appeal the ITC’s ruling, especially if President Biden’s administration won’t veto the ban. President Obama vetoed a similar ban concerning the iPhone in 2013.

The ban will only concern the US market. The Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 will be available internationally. That’s another way Americans might be able to buy one of the two models after December 25th, until Apple restarts sales.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.