A Rumored Apple Watch Feature Suggests a Focus on Battery Life and Comfort

The Apple Watch may be getting a sleep tracker. 

The Apple Watch Series 4’s electrocardiogram (ECG) heart monitor was an important step in bringing wearables from the realm of luxury gadgets toward something that could reasonably be described as an actual health tool. But to continue adding new features, Apple will face an interesting new hardware challenge: Making its wearables comfortable enough to wear 24/7.

The Apple Watch’s next frontier — reportedly sleep tech — makes this particularly clear. Employees of the tech giant have been testing an unreleased sleep tracking app for months, reported veteran Apple reporter Mark Gurman Tuesday. His sources revealed that if the current tests are successful, the feature could make it to Apple Watches by 2020. But before that becomes a reality, the company needs to improve the wearables battery life and how comfortable it is to wear to bed.

Currently, the Series 4 can give users up to 18 hours of juice, according to Apple. That’s enough to get through the work day but it’ll need to be a multi-day battery life to ensure users aren’t waking up at zero percent. Alternatively, Apple could implement a low-power mode when sleep tracking is on to extend its current battery limit.

apple watch series 4 ecg heart monitor
The addition of ECG made the Series 4 a health juggernaut. A native sleep app could make future Apple Watches an all-encompassing health tool. 

Comfort is the second hurdle facing a sleep tracking app on the Apple Watch. Just like any analog watch, keeping the wearable on for too long can become uncomfortable and potentially lead to skin irritation. The Apple Watch User Guide suggests users routinely take off the smartwatch to clean it and to avoid unwanted skin reactions.

“Remove Apple Watch periodically to allow your skin to breathe,” state the guidelines. “Keeping Apple Watch and the band clean and dry will reduce the possibility of skin irritation.”

A potential solution for this could be replacing metals and plastics with lightweight materials like smart fabrics. Apple has been granted a number of patents that depict designs for cloth that is interwoven with electrical components, like light-emitting diodes, for fabric-based touch screens. This concept could be used to make a breathable Apple Watch band or even replace the entirety of the watch face in the distant future.

fitbit sleep tracker
The Fitbit has long offered native sleep tracking.

The Cupertino-based company stands to gain a lot from introducing a native sleep tracking app. For one, users won’t have to download a third-party apps, like AutoSleep and Sleep++, to accurately monitor their snoozing. The additional feature could also lure potential customers away from competitors like Fitbit that’s long had its own sleep tracking features.

Apple’s wearable products have been a boon for the tech company. During its most recent earnings call SVP Luca Maestri stated that wearables business is “approaching the size of a Fortune 200 company.” Adding features that rival smartwatch brands offer is just another way that Apple is trying to make up for its declining iPhones sales.