Apple Expected to Remove a Health Feature From New Apple Watches

Apple is expected to begin selling its flagship smartwatches without the capability to detect people’s pulse rate.

The tech giant is likely to drop the feature after losing a patent case over its blood-oxygen measurement technology two months ago. The court ordered Apple to stop selling its Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 devices. Rather than discontinue sales, the company sought permission to continue selling the devices after removing the infringing technology.

Though Apple has not yet detailed what it plans to do, the change should not affect smartwatches that are in use. People with Apple watches capable of detecting their pulse will continue to be able to use that feature, analysts said. The Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 would continue to offer an array of other features, including the ability to track runs, set timers, and detect falls and irregular heart beats.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The International Trade Commission in October found that several Apple Watches had infringed on patents held by Masimo, a medical technology company in Irvine, Calif., that helped pioneer some pulse oximeter technology. It issued a ban on the import of Apple’s watches, which are made in Asia.

Apple has appealed the ruling but on Wednesday lost its effort in court to delay implementing a ban on sales of its watches until the appeals court rules on the dispute. As a contingency, it had received approval from U.S. customs to continue selling the watch after making technical changes to remove the infringing technology.

The compromise would be a temporary blow to Apple’s efforts to increase the utility of its watches by adding health features. In 2018, the company won approval from the Food and Drug Administration for its watches to begin to measure heart rates through electrocardiogram tests. It subsequently added capabilities to detect falls, crashes and the rate of people’s pulses.

The new features pushed Apple deeper into the world of medical devices that is dominated by companies like Medtronic and Abbott. Masimo had secured several patents over pulse oximeter technology, which measures the percentage of oxygen that red blood cells carry from the lungs to the body.

In court, Masimo said that Apple had discussed acquiring the medical device company but instead chose to poach top Masimo executives and employees. In 2020, Apple introduced its first watch with pulse oximetry.

The following year, Masimo took its complaints that Apple stole its technology to the International Trade Commission. The appeals court is expected to make a ruling this year.