Inevitable Sherlocking

This week I’ve been working on a big update to my Apple Watch sleep tracker, Sleep++. While I love the app, it is a bit funny to work on. I am pretty confident that somewhere deep within the Cupertino mothership, Apple is working on their own sleep tracking app for the Apple Watch.

That isn’t based on anything specific, other than common sense. If they weren’t, they’d be leaving a massive gap in their fitness/wellness offering. I suspect their ultimate offering will have more capabilities and operate better than anything I can do, just given how much more integrated into watchOS it could be. Which makes putting lots of effort into an app that any day could be competing against something better and permanently installed feel a bit hopeless.

I’ve had the feeling that one day Apple would introduce a sleep tracker ever since I began working on Sleep++ back in 2015. The question was always when, not if. Each successive update to watchOS I dive into the changelog to look for clues as to when this fateful day will finally arrive. I got especially worried in watchOS 3 when Apple introduced their “Bedtime” alarm feature to iOS 10’s alarm clock, but September came and went without anything more.

In a weird way I’ve just come to peace with this reality and grown to understand that this isn’t something that I should really fear. While the indefinite nature of its arrival certainly gives me a bit of unease, once I accepted that it was inevitable things got much simpler.

I approach development now with a slightly different perspective. My goal is to

  • (a) in the meantime be the best Apple Watch sleep tracker on the market and take advantage of this opportunity as best I can, and
  • (b) prepare for when they eventually arrive by making the real value of the app not tied solely to data collection.

The first part seems to be working so far. The app has nearly 650k downloads and I’d put it up against any other sleep tracker on the market. I suppose I’m just not letting the fact that someday I might get smooshed, detract from the potential that the time between today and someday contains.

The second part is far more interesting. Nearly all of the features I have in mind for the app have nothing to do with the data collection side of things. When Apple inevitably launches their offering it will certainly do a better job of tracking a user’s sleep and do it in a less invasive way than I ever could. The nature of watchOS is such that doing long running, background monitoring of a user’s motion is difficult as a third party, but I suspect straight forward for a first party app.

Given Apple’s track record with health and fitness data I can reasonably expect that whatever data they collect will be made available in the Health database, which Sleep++ could then switch over to using.

My goals now are to give Sleep++ tools for helping my users understand their sleep patterns and insights into how to potentially improve them—using my own data for now, but with future sources in mind.

I suppose the reason I thought writing this post would be helpful was to try and give a sense of how letting go of the fear of a big competitor can help you focus in on what you can uniquely do…and if I’m honest I wanted to put my expectations in writing now so that when that day eventually comes I can compare my expectations with the reality.

David Smith