Apple removes blood oxygen sensor from new watches. What does this mean for current users?

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Apple Watch Ultra 2

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Just a month ago, Apple halted US sales of its new Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 models over a patent dispute regarding the watch’s blood oxygen sensor. A federal court is still reviewing the case, but it appears Apple is preparing to move forward before a decision is made by dropping the feature entirely.

According to a report from Bloomberg, Apple has started shipping watches that don’t have the functionality in question. This appears to be a software change instead of a hardware one, meaning the sensor is still present — it’s just not active. US Customs and Border Protection has decided the new watch “falls outside the scope” of the import ban, meaning they’re ready to hit the market.

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Bloomberg also reported these new watches have been sent to Apple stores, but the stores have been instructed not to open or sell them until receiving further word. It seems the company is simply preparing to have the new version of the watch ready if an appeal fails. A court decision on the appeal is expected as early as this week, and if the ban is upheld, it could be for up to a year. 

Apple is reportedly working on a software change that updates the sensor’s algorithm enough to avoid the ban but still keep its functionality; however, disabling the feature outright was probably the easiest and fastest answer for now.

One of the biggest questions though is what this means for current users of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Series 9, for whom the feature is working. Apple hasn’t said anything to this point, but since the company was attempting a workaround of sorts, it seems like the goal is to keep the feature around long-term. 

Because the ban only applied to import of the watches, it’s possible that current watches are just fine and will never be affected. But, it’s also possible that Apple could decide to remove the feature from all watches to avoid legal complications — so it’s worth checking the notes on any upcoming Apple update if you utilize this feature. 

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