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Sleep tracking for Apple Watch puts rumors of improved battery life to bed

WatchOS 7 will add sleep tracking to your Apple Watch when it arrives later this year. A long-awaited feature that was rumored for inclusion in iOS 13 but never materialized, sleep tracking is a helpful addition to Apple’s compressive health tracking suite. However, you can expect to pay for in battery life.

The Apple Watch doesn’t have an infinite power reserve. If you wear it all day and all night, when will you charge it?

Hopeful fans might imagine the introduction of sleep tracking in WatchOS 7 hints the future Apple Watch Series 6 has significantly longer battery life to compensate for this big new feature.

Sorry, but no. It probably won’t. And Apple has all but said so.

Here’s your battery reminder

Apple’s vice president of technology, Kevin Lynch, called sleep tracking, “one of the most requested features for the Apple Watch. ” It’s certainly an exciting addition, and Apple seems to have given it a lot of thought. Up to a point, anyway.

WatchOS 7’s good morning messages shows battery life Image used with permission by copyright holder

Here’s how it works.

First, you set a nightly sleep goal. Once that’s done, the Wind Down feature will automatically minimize distractions from your phone when it’s near time for bed, so you can concentrate on making your eyelids heavier by using suggested mediation apps. When you go to bed, the Watch goes into Sleep Mode, with a black screen that will show the time only with a tap. Subtle alarm sounds or simple haptics will wake you up in the morning, and the screen will display a cheery good morning message.

Bedtime with Apple sounds lovely and soothing, doesn’t it? Except as you stare bleary-eyed at the Watch’s screen, a battery level indicator is front and center. Good morning, world. Hello, battery anxiety.

Vera Carr, the manager of health software engineering at Apple, used some very specific words to describe what happens next in this imaginary morning routine. They don’t leave much room to hope for multi-day battery life.

Good morning, world. Hello, battery anxiety.

“Once you’re up, you’ll see a friendly greeting easing you into the day. [The screen] also shows your battery level, so you can remember to charge in the morning,” said Carr.

The deliberate inclusion of this phrase is a pre-emptive answer to the, “but what about charging” questions that will inevitably come up.

My mornings are a whirlwind of hurried showers, burned toast, and tea that’s too hot to drink. Now, I’ll have to add a needy Apple Watch to the list of things I must address.

A continued problem

The necessity of finding a different, less convenient time to charge your watch is the same problem faced by those who use one of the existing sleep tracking apps for the Apple Watch. It’s the reason why a cheap fitness band is great for sleep tracking, as such bands usually have a battery that lasts for weeks, as well as a compact, light design that’s more comfortable to wear in bed.

Battery life matters. It’s one of the biggest pain points for wearables already, and even the Apple Watch’s strong (compared to much of the competition, at least) performance doesn’t mean it’s good for days of use if you forget to charge it. Sleep tracking often uses heart rate monitoring during the night, so even if many connected features are turned off, it still consumes power.

If the Apple Watch’s battery charged faster, that would be a neat workaround to those hurried mornings where nothing goes right.

Ben Wood, research chief at analyst firm CCS Insight, agrees sleep tracking needs longer battery life to be useful.

“Sleep tracking is a long-overdue addition to WatchOS,” Wood said in an email sent after WWDC 2020. “But it will be more usable on a future generation of the Apple Watch with better battery life, given that current models last about 18 hours and take 1.5 hours to charge.”

A long wait?

Any hope the Series 6 Apple Watch will offer a big leap in endurance seems squashed by Carr’s words during the announcement. Apple’s sleep tracking looks set to be held back by the same problem as the third-party sleep apps you can download today, and that’s not going to inspire everyone to use it.

If the Apple Watch isn’t likely to feature a battery life breakthrough this year, is there another solution to the problem? Actually, there is something else that could help. If the Apple Watch’s battery charged faster, that would be a neat workaround to those hurried mornings where nothing goes right.

WatchOS 7’s information screen when sleeping Image used with permission by copyright holder

Several smartwatches running Google’s WearOS charge in an hour. But what about a fast-charging system that could provide the power needed for a day’s use in 15 to 30 minutes? A system like the charging systems we see on phones from OnePlus, for example. It’s not outlandish to consider.

Rumors continue to circulate about Apple’s AirPower wireless charging mat, which uses the A11 Bionic processor to control the charging system. That’s a lot of smart tech for a charger. Maybe it’ll work some magic on the Apple Watch Series 6’s battery charging, too? We can hope. It seems, in any case, to be more plausible than a drastic battery life increase, since any such increase would likely be obtainable only with a larger, heavier battery.

Early birds

If you’re not a morning person, Apple’s new sleep tracking feature is likely to add another task to the frenzied breakfast routine. And it doesn’t sound like a big battery update is coming to save you, as Apple explicitly pointed out the Watch is going to bug you about charging it the second you open your eyes.

I’m excited about WatchOS 7’s sleep tracking feature, despite this problem, and hopeful about faster charging on the next Watch. If such a thing does not arrive, then the alternatives might be to set an alarm for earlier than usual, or just use your iPhone, as bedside sleep tracking will be a feature in iOS 14 — with or without an Apple Watch.

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Andy Boxall
Senior Mobile Writer
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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