Apple to Face Claims it Bars Third-Party Heart-Rate App Functionality on Apple Watch
Apple must face claims it illegally monopolized the U.S. market for heart-rate monitoring apps on Apple Watch, a California-based federal judge said on Monday.
AliveCor, a company that that markets an ECG "KardiaBand" for the Apple Watch, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple in May 2021 accusing the Cupertino company of changing the heart-rate algorithm for the Apple Watch to gain an "unfair competitive edge" over rivals while endangering the lives of AliveCor users.
According to AliveCor, Apple's decision to exclude third-party heart-rate analysis providers from the Apple Watch has harmed AliveCor and impacted patients and consumers. To go along with the KardiaBand, AliveCor created the SmartRhythm app, which uses data from the Apple Watch's heart-rate algorithm to determine when a heart rate is irregular and suggest people take an ECG with the KardiaBand.
The KardiaBand received FDA approval in 2017, and in 2018, Apple debuted the Apple Watch Series 4 with built-in ECG capabilities and its own irregular heart rhythm notifications followed. AliveCor claims that Apple saw the success of the KardiaBand and changed the functionality of watchOS to sabotage KardiaBand and "corner the market for heart rate analysis on Apple Watch."
According to the latest report from Reuters, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said Monday that AliveCor could try to prove that Apple violated federal antitrust law based on its alleged "complete control" over the market for such apps.
"AliveCor alleges that Apple made changes to the heart rate algorithm that made it effectively impossible for third parties to inform a user when to take an ECG," or electrocardiogram, White wrote. "Plaintiff's allegations plausibly establish that Apple's conduct was anticompetitive."
However, White dismissed AliveCor's separate claim that Apple maintained an illegal monopoly over ECG-capable smart watches, because AliveCor's KardiaBand wristband "complements but does not compete" in that market, he said.
Apple and its lawyers have yet to respond to the judgement. AliveCor has previously filed several patent infringement lawsuits against Apple, alleging that Apple copied AliveCor's cardiological detection and analysis technology. Those lawsuits have not yet been resolved, while today's judgement allows AliveCor to seek damages and pursue the possibility of an injunction that would require Apple to cease its perceived monopolistic conduct.