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Apple disables 'lifesaving' health feature on Apple Watch so sales can continue

Apple disables 'lifesaving' health feature on Apple Watch so sales can continue

It's all about a messy intellectual property dispute with a medical tech company.

Apple's been having some real trouble in the US over the last couple of months about health sensors in its Apple Watches.

One of the flagship features in newer models has been blood oxygen monitoring - a light-based system that lets your smartwatch check how oxygenated your blood is.

This can be a really useful metric if you want to know more about your fitness and wellbeing, and can help the watch to point out potentially life-threatening conditions early - but Apple's sensor has allegedly been infringing on a patent from Masimo, a health tech company.

CHRIS DELMAS / Contributor / Getty

That allegation has escalated in the last six weeks, and Apple was forced to briefly remove the Apple Watch models that use the feature from sale in December - the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2.

Now, it's returned those watch models to store shelves by pushing a software update that will disable the feature on them - a move that means the watches can go back on sale.

It also cannily leaves the door open to a future resolution to the dispute, since the software could be updated again to re-enable the feature, given that the hardware to read blood oxygen levels remains inside the watches.

It's unclear whether this software measure will be enough in the medium term to satisfy the International Trade Commission, the body enforcing the ban, which has so far been demanding material changes to the watches' hardware.

Interestingly, this means that as of now Apple is selling its flagship watches with demonstrably one less feature than it used to, and it won't be changing the prices of either model - but that perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise.

NurPhoto / Contributor / Getty

Happily, if you already have an Apple Watch that uses the blood oxygenation feature, you don't have to worry that it will be downgraded without your realizing, either.

The ban is only on the sale of new units, so Apple is very unlikely to be forced to remove the feature for those who've already bought one of the watches in question.

Still, this is a surprisingly public and messy situation for a corporation as serene and considered as Apple, and Masimo has made it clear that it doesn't intend to back down - although it's also publicly stated that it is happy to settle the case.

Again, that's no surprise since money is often a decisive factor in these kinds of disputes, and it's a well-known fact that Apple has plenty of cash lying around.

Featured Image Credit: Future Publishing / Contributor / UCG / Contributor / Getty