Apple's problems are piling up ahead of its biggest launch in nearly a decade

Tim Cook with the Apple Vision Pro at an unveiling event
Tim Cook and Apple Vision Pro.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Apple should be focused on launching the Vision Pro headset next month.

  • But it's battling problems with the Apple Watch, falling iPhone sales in China, and developer fury.

  • All of which have put Apple in a difficult position ahead of its biggest launch in nearly a decade.

With the Vision Pro hitting shelves in two weeks, Apple should be laser-focused on what's set to be its most significant launch since 2014.

Instead, the iPhone maker is having to deal with one big problem after another – just as it's preparing to convince consumers to drop $3,500 on a pair of mixed-reality goggles.

Apple's most pressing problem involves its smartwatches.

It had to stop selling Series 9 and Ultra 2 watches last month after the International Trade Commission ruled that their blood-oxygen monitors violated a patent held by health-tech business Masimo.

Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2
Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 models were banned from sale in December.Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Although Apple was allowed to resume sales by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, on Wednesday the court reimposed the sales ban until its appeal was resolved.

That's a big blow to a product segment estimated to be worth about $18 billion a year to Apple.

Masimo CEO Joe Kiani said the court's decision "affirms that even the largest and most powerful companies must respect the intellectual rights of American inventors and must deal with the consequences when they are caught infringing others' patents."

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

The ruling prompted the company to ready versions of the watches without the blood-oxygen monitoring feature to go on sale from Thursday.

Hardware headaches

Worries loom over Apple's most important hardware too: the iPhone.

In China, Apple's biggest international market for its smartphone, sales have plummeted in recent months. Sales of the iPhone 15 in China were 4.5% lower in China in the first 17 days compared with its predecessor, per Counterpoint Research.

That's partly because Chinese consumers now have more homegrown alternatives, such as Huawei's Mate 60 Pro, that offer 5G speed and features to rival the iPhone.

A customer tries out Huawei Mate 60 smartphone at a Huawei flagship store on September 4, 2023 in Shanghai, China.
The Huawei Mate 60 rivals the latest iPhone.Wang Gang/Getty Images

The threat of competition to demand has been so worrisome that Apple's even taken the rare step of discounting the iPhone 15 in China by about $70, Bloomberg reported – just in time for the Lunar New Year.

Epic battles with developers

Beyond hardware, Apple is also risking a big battle with developers.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court denied an appeal from Apple in its long-running legal tussle with Epic Games. The Fortnite maker alleges monopolistic behavior over the way Apple forced developers to use its App Store to sell in-app items, giving Apple a 30% commission.

Although Epic's antitrust claims were rejected in 2021, a court injunction required Apple to introduce changes that allow developers to direct consumers towards in-app payment options that bypass the App Store.

This would, theoretically, mean Apple couldn't take a commission from developers for in-app purchases made on their apps beyond the store. Only problem is Apple's changes in response to the injunction allow it to still take a cut of up to 27%.

It's a move that's already stirring outrage among developers, according to The Wall Street Journal.

These are clearly problems Apple could do without ahead of its looming Vision Pro launch.

Vision Pro success is far from guaranteed as Apple faces an uphill battle to get consumers on board with mixed reality technologies that are yet to go mainstream.

Distractions are the last thing Apple needs right now.

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