Apple Faces New Antitrust Lawsuit by AliveCor on Apple Watch Policies

Apple Faces New Antitrust Lawsuit by AliveCor for Preventing Third-Party Irregular Heart Rhythm Analysis on Apple Watch.

Apple's choice to restrict third-party heart rate analysis providers from the Apple Watch, according to AliveCor, has damaged the company as well as patients and consumers. AliveCor built the SmartRhythm app to go along with the KardiaBand, which analyses data from the Apple Watch's heart rate algorithm to recognize when a heart rate is irregular and recommends individuals have an ECG with the KardiaBand.

In 2017, the FDA approved the KardiaBand, and in 2018, Apple released the Apple Watch Series 4 with built-in ECG capabilities and its own irregular heart rhythm notifications. According to AliveCor, Apple recognized the KardiaBand's success and modified the functionality of watchOS in order to undermine it and "monopolize the market for heart rate analysis on Apple Watch."

The SmartRhythm software was first authorized on the App Store, according to AliveCor, but Apple later stated that it breached App Store criteria. AliveCor claims that it had to tweak SmartRhythm several times to comply with Apple's requirements and that Apple subsequently "changed watchOS's heart rate algorithm" to prevent SmartRhythm and other competitive apps from working. Apple allegedly modified the heart rate algorithm in watchOS 5 to make it impossible for third-party apps to detect irregular heart rates.

The algorithm was nearly the same in the first four versions of watchOS, but with the release of the Series 4 Apple Watch and the launch of Apple's competitive heart rate analysis app, Apple published watchOS5, which "improved" the Watch's heart rate algorithm, among other things. That upgrade did not improve the user experience for Apple Watch buyers; rather, its sole intent and effect was to prohibit third parties from detecting irregular heartbeat conditions and, as a result, from competing with Apple Watch heart rate analysis apps.

AliveCor claims that its SmartRhythm app was "just superior at recognizing alarming heart-related health events" before Apple's alleged sabotage and that it could have successfully competed with the Apple watch's ECG function. Because the irregular rhythm functionality didn't work any longer, AliveCor was obliged to remove SmartRhythm from the App Store.

All of this is devastating to competition, as Apple now has a 100 percent market share of heartrate analysis apps on watchOS devices, as well as a 70 percent market share of either the United States ECG-capable smartwatch or United States ECG-capable wearable devices market. With a single update, Apple effectively eliminated competition that consumers obviously desired and required, depriving them of alternatives to Apple's heartrate analysis.

AliveCor has already sued Apple for patent infringement, claiming that Apple duplicated AliveCor's cardiology detection and analysis technology. Those claims are still pending, and AliveCor is seeking damages and an order requiring Apple to "stop its unlawful conduct" in today's antitrust claim.

Apple is now involved in a number of antitrust lawsuits. Epic Games' high-profile lawsuit was settled earlier this week, while antitrust investigations against Apple's App Store fees are ongoing in the United Kingdom and the United States, among other nations.