The Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 are likely not the only devices impacted by Apple’s ongoing legal spat with rival Masimo. Reports suggest that the upcoming Apple Watch Series 10 and Ultra 3 may also be less feature-packed than initially expected, with one of the marquee health improvements possibly getting nixed altogether.
Sleep apnea and hypertension detection are the two most anticipated health upgrades supposedly coming to the next generation of Apple Watches. Both are silent killers that can easily fly under the radar. These features won’t be able to diagnose folks, but users will receive a notification to follow up with their doctor if either is detected.
Sleep apnea, in particular, can often go undetected — the National Council on Aging estimates that 39 million U.S. adults have the condition — which is why early detection is so important. Unfortunately, this is the feature most likely to be axed from the upcoming release. Here’s why.
Blood oxygen saturation detection goes bye-bye
Apple was forced to turn off the blood oxygen saturation monitoring feature in all newly-sold Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 devices beginning last week. This was the result of a very long and drawn-out legal fight with Masimo over the intellectual property behind the SpO2 sensor.
Simply put, Masimo says Apple stole its tech and has been using it in every Apple Watch since the Series 6. Apple denies this, but the U.S. legal system and U.S. International Trade Commission seem to agree with Masimo. And so, the feature has officially been shut off in all new devices sold by Apple in the U.S.
But how does this impact the forthcoming sleep apnea detection upgrade? According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman — one of the most reliable sources for Cupertino insider info — Apple’s sleep apnea detection almost certainly requires blood oxygen saturation data to function properly. No SpO2 sensor? No sleep apnea detection.
Is this a done deal?
Of course, Apple may figure out a workaround to its SpO2 sensor problem, side-stepping these concerns entirely — only time will tell. But if the new line of Apple Watches does end up launching sans sleep apnea detection, not only will a lot of folks be disappointed, but upgrading could be a much less compelling proposition.
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Dan Bracaglia covers fitness and consumer technology with an emphasis on wearables for Tom's Guide. Based in the US Pacific Northwest, Dan is an avid outdoor adventurer who dabbles in everything from kayaking to snowboarding, but he most enjoys exploring the cities and mountains with his small pup, Belvedere. Dan is currently training to climb some of Washington State's tallest peaks. He's also a big photography nerd.