More on Apple’s Software Workaround for the Apple Watch Import Ban

From an updated footnote in Apple’s “How to Use the Blood Oxygen App on Apple Watch” support page:

The ability to measure Blood Oxygen is no longer available on Apple Watch units sold by Apple in the United States on or after January 18, 2024. These are indicated with part numbers ending in LW/A.

Apple refuses to say so, but it seems clear that this is a software change. These new watch units still have the blood-oxygen sensor, but the sensor is disabled by software. This workaround definitely does not apply to already-sold watches, even after those watches upgrade to future versions of WatchOS. The reason why is that the ITC injunction is an import ban. Apple is banned from importing watches that violate Masimo’s patents. Units that have already been sold aren’t affected by an import ban.

The software workaround is clearly distinguishing which watches can continue to use the blood-oxygen sensor and which can’t by checking the device identifiers or serial numbers or something. This is why it took Apple a few weeks to come up with this solution: they needed to retool production to produce units with distinguishable part numbers. It would have been trivial to just disable the sensor on all watches, old and new alike, with a WatchOS update. (Although existing owners would likely refuse to update.)

Apple also refuses to say so, but it seems clear that these new units will have the blood-oxygen sensors enabled in a future software update if and when they win on appeal or otherwise settle with Masimo. I’m pretty sure that’s just a question of when, but maybe it’s an if.

(Because the ban was instituted by the International Trade Commission, I believe Apple could tell Masimo to go fuck themselves if Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 were manufactured in America, because an import ban wouldn’t matter.)

Friday, 19 January 2024