Apple has stopped selling the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 in the US because of an ongoing legal battle with health tech company Masimo over the blood oxygen detection feature in those watches.
The US International Trade Commission, the federal agency that handles trade-related mandates, previously issued an order that would prohibit Apple from importing the Series 9 and Ultra 2. The decision came after a US judge ruled in January that Apple infringed on Masimo patents related to the technology used in Apple’s blood oxygen sensing system. The order was under presidential review until Dec. 25 and became final on Dec. 26 after United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai decided not to reverse the ITC’s decision.
On Dec. 27 Apple received a temporary win as an Appeals Court paused the ban allowing Apple to resume selling the devices. According to Bloomberg, Apple has been working on software changes to the Apple Watch’s blood oxygen detection and the government is expected to decide on Jan. 12 whether those updates are sufficient.
As of press time, Apple has yet to resume selling the watches on its online store.
The Apple Watch is one of Apple’s most important products, helping push the company’s wearables, home and accessories business to be its second-largest product category behind the iPhone. Apple has previously said the size of its wearables unit alone equals that of a Fortune 150 company.
Apple began preemptively pausing online sales of the affected watches on Dec. 21 and halted in-store sales on Dec. 24 in anticipation of the order being finalized. The decision specifically applies to sales of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 through Apple in the US, and the watches are still for sale on Best Buy, Amazon, Walmart and Target’s websites at the time of writing. The Apple Watch SE is not affected.
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Apple issued the following statement in response to the decision being finalized.
“At Apple, we work tirelessly to create products and services that meaningfully impact users’ lives. It’s what drives our teams — Clinical, Design and Engineering — to dedicate years to developing scientifically validated health, fitness and wellness features for Apple Watch, and we are inspired that millions of people around the world have benefited greatly from this product. We strongly disagree with the USITC decision and resulting exclusion order, and are taking all measures to return Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 to customers in the U.S. as soon as possible.”
The company has appealed to the Federal Circuit and submitted a proposed redesign of the affected watches for US Customs approval.
The order comes during the critical holiday shopping season. Smartwatches were among the top products sold during the Black Friday period, according to holiday shopping data from Adobe.
When the judge’s ruling was made in January, Masimo CEO Joe Kiani said the decision “should help restore fairness in the market.”
Here’s what to know about Apple’s pause in sales of the Series 9 and Ultra 2. This story will be updated as we receive more information.
Can I still buy the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 from other retailers?
The order affects US sales of the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 through Apple, but 9to5Mac points out that the order prohibits Apple from importing these watches and selling them to resellers, which means they may only be available through other retailers for a limited time.
The order only applies to sales in the US, meaning you should still be able to purchase the Series 9 and Ultra 2 abroad.
Best Buy and Walmart have both confirmed to CNET that they will continue selling the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2. Amazon and Target have not yet responded to CNET’s question about whether the affected watches will continue to be sold. All four retailers are still offering both watches through their websites at the time of writing.
Which Apple Watch models are affected?
The Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 are the only models affected. Since the legal dispute involves the blood oxygen sensing tech used in the Apple Watch, the Apple Watch SE will continue to be sold as usual. The Apple Watch SE is the lower-end model in Apple’s lineup, meaning it’s missing some health tracking features like blood oxygen sensing and the ability to take an ECG.
Current Apple Watches with blood oxygen monitoring, which includes any non-SE models starting with the Series 6, also won’t be affected. There is no impact for those who already own the Apple Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2.
What is Masimo and why is Apple halting sales?
Masimo is a medical technology company that creates professional and consumer health products, including a smartwatch called the Masimo W1. The ITC order is the latest development in an ongoing legal dispute between Apple and Masimo, in which the latter accused Apple of infringing on its pulse oximeter patents.
What happens next?
Apple said it’s pursuing a range of legal and technical options to resume Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 sales. The customs office will decide whether Apple’s proposed redesigns infringe Masimo’s patents on Jan. 12, according to Reuters, so we might hear an update after that date.
Apple didn’t provide details about what the proposed redesign entails. Ahead of the decision being finalized, Bloomberg reported that Apple was developing a software change that alters how the watches monitor and present blood oxygen levels as a workaround.
If I can’t buy an Apple Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2, what are my alternatives?
Those with an iPhone who just want a smartwatch for tracking activity, workouts and sleep should consider the $249 Apple Watch SE. While that watch lacks ECG and blood oxygen monitoring, it can still provide notifications for high and low heart rates and irregular heart rhythms.
The Apple Watch SE is the best choice for those who are most comfortable in Apple’s ecosystem, but other options work across iPhone and Android, like the Fitbit Versa 4 and Garmin Venu 3.
Those who are looking to monitor blood oxygen levels from home specifically should consider buying a standalone pulse oximeter, said Jennifer Schrack, professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“Consumer wearables are a great supplemental way for people to stay informed about their health, but they are subject to error,” Schrack said over email. “It is important to remember that they are measuring blood oxygen using PPG sensors, which can be affected by things like skin tone.”
If your heart is set on the Series 9 or Ultra 2, consider purchasing one through a third-party retailer while they’re still available.