Judge bans Apple Watches with blood oxygen sensor. What does this mean for current users?

This is an unprecedented situation for Apple.
Written by Artie Beaty, Contributing Writer
Apple Watch Ultra 2
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

In the latest step in a legal battle over a blood oxygen sensor, a federal judge has ruled that Apple cannot sell its Series 9 and Ultra 2 smartwatches if they have the feature in question.

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 currently reviewing the case and attempting to determine if Apple violated patents of Masimo, a health monitoring technology company. While the case is under review, a ban was placed on the import of all Apple watches with the sensor in question. 

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Apple has filed an appeal and asked for a temporary pause on the ban, but that request has been denied. As a result, watches with the sensor cannot be imported into the United States while the case plays out -- an unprecedented situation for Apple.

So what does this mean for the future of the Apple Watch? What about current users?

According to a report from Bloomberg, prior to the ban, Apple had started shipping watches without the functionality in question just in case the ban happened. This was a software change instead of a hardware one, meaning the sensor was still present -- it just wasn't active. US Customs and Border Protection decided the new watch fell "outside the scope" of the import ban, meaning they were ready to hit the market. 

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. 

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. 

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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.

The legal battle over the sensor could take up to a year to complete.

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