More details on Apple’s legal victory over AliveCor now available

Last week, Apple was handed a significant victory in its legal battle with AliveCor over the Apple Watch’s heart monitoring technology. At the time, however, the full details of the decision were unavailable for confidentiality reasons.

This week, the judge in the case has released the public version of the court’s decision siding with Apple.

I’ll refer you to my full coverage from last week of the AliveCor and Apple antitrust battle for the full details. The gist of the situation was that AliveCor filed an antitrust lawsuit in May 2021, arguing that changes Apple had made to the Apple Watch’s heart rate algorithm were anticompetitive.

The case centered around upgrades to Apple Watch’s heart rate algorithm made as part of watchOS 5 in 2018, with the company upgrading from the “Heart Rate Path Optimizer” algorithm (HRPO) to the “Heart Rate Neural Network” algorithm (HRNN). AliveCor argued that these changes hurt the experience of using its SmartRhythm feature, available in its own watchOS app. 

AliveCor then filed this antitrust lawsuit in May 2021, saying that Apple should have continued to make Apple Watch heart rate data available from the pre-watchOS 5 algorithms as well. Apple, however, did not do this because it found that the HRNN was more accurate. 

US District Judge Jeffrey White ruled in favor of Apple, saying that Apple changes to watchOS were not anticompetitive and that the case should not go to a jury trial. Notably, the court also rejected AliveCor’s claim that Apple violated California’s Unfair Competition Law.

In the full version of the decision made public today, there are more details about the specifics of the court’s decision. “The Court simply cannot accept AliveCor’s invitation to micromanage the algorithms Apple maintains on watchOS by ordering Apple to modify its Workout Mode API to reintegrate HRPO and provide third-party developer access to HRPO values,” the decision explains.

For instance, the judge explains that competitors do not have the right to control Apple product decisions – which is what AliveCor was attempting to do. “Apple has the right to implement a product change that is detrimental for some purposes so long as it is an improvement for consumers in some other way,” the judge says.

And more:

The logical conclusion of AliveCor’s position is that Apple would have to maintain any algorithm used by a single developer on watchOS if removal of dated algorithms would disrupt third-party apps and give Apple increased market share.  HRPO was only one of many algorithms in Workout Mode API, and Workout Mode API is only one of many APIs on watchOS. Each occupies space and requires battery life to run, meaning that overinclusion would slow down the Apple Watch and drain the battery faster.  Such an outcome would be untenable and would stymie the innovation that the antimonopoly laws are intended to promote.

And more details on the rejection of AliveCor’s claim that Apple violated California’s Unfair Competition Law:

The Court’s role is not to analyze, indefinitely, the quality of algorithms that Apple develops for use by each individual third-party developer in order to ensure that the quality never degrades for any purpose. Such an order could restrain competition by discouraging companies from making product improvements that benefit consumers as a whole to the detriment of certain parties who prefer the status quo.

The full document is available below.

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Chance Miller