Sleep tracking has always seemed like a natural addition to the Apple Watch, and for years all signs have indicated Apple had it in its plans. In 2017 the company acquired Beddit, which specialized in sleep-tracking hardware and software. Perhaps one motivation for that move was the fact that paid sleep-tracking apps regularly occupied the App Store’s top charts. Apple has also progressively exhibited strong interest in areas of health, making sleep a no-brainer. So the technology for sleep tracking had been acquired, customer demand was clearly there, and it fit within the broader health ambitions of the company.
Yet until this year, Apple’s sleep-related software enhancements have been limited to…improved alarm options on iPhone. This fall that’s changing, as watchOS 7 and iOS 14 will together introduce a true sleep tracking system.
I’ve been using the new sleep-related features of Apple’s forthcoming OS versions for two full months now, and in true Apple fashion, they’re in some ways more comprehensive and elegant than third-party solutions, and in other ways they’re underpowered compared to what third parties provide, ensuring that they won’t be the best fit for all users, but their simplicity will make them a solid solution for most people.
Scott Stein of CNET interviewed Apple’s Kevin Lynch about watchOS 7’s upcoming sleep tracking feature. Unlike third-party sleep tracking wearables and apps, Apple’s approach is simpler. As Stein explains:
Unlike other wearables such as the Fitbit or Oura, which measure how much time you spend in the various sleep phases and even give calculated sleep quality scores, Apple’s sleep tech is more simplified. It just tracks duration of sleep, movement disturbances and heart rate. The content of your sleep isn’t analyzed much at all. Instead, Apple’s placed a big focus on the time you go to bed and what you do while you wind down.
Instead of tracking time spent in different sleep phases, Apple’s focus is on winding down before bed and sleep duration, using positive reinforcement to encourage better habits. As Lynch says:
“You can’t really coach yourself to have more or less REM stages,” he says. “We felt like that wasn’t the best way Apple could add value here on sleep. We focused on the transition to the bed, which we think is way more actionable, and will result in people getting a better night’s sleep, which then has secondary effects of perhaps your REM stages sorting themselves.”
I haven’t had a chance to install the watchOS 7 beta yet, but sleep tracking is right at the top of my list of features I want to try this summer. I’ve used third-party apps that made me feel anxious about my lack of sleep, so I’m keen to see how Apple’s approach stacks up.