Getting a good night's sleep plays a vital role in your well-being, so it's easy to see why Nintendo plans to tackle this first and foremost in the Quality of Life (QOL) initiative which was set into motion by the late Satoru Iwata. While Nintendo's sleep tracking gizmo was thought to be on hold indefinitely based on comments made to investors earlier in the year, it seems to be very much back on the agenda based on a statement found in the 2016 annual report:
Moreover, Nintendo is working on the development of a new product that improves people's QOL (Quality of Life) in enjoyable ways. Nintendo's aim is to enable consumers to make daily efforts to improve their QOL in a fun manner by making sleep and fatigue status visible and offering various services based on this information.
As shown in the diagram released by Nintendo some time ago, its original QOL device concept is designed to visualise sleep and fatigue using five non-sensing automatic measurements:
Of course there are already lots of fitness bands on the market that can track how long you sleep, and in addition to this there are a number of non-wearable sleep monitors out there too. Curious to know what these devices are currently capable of we tried out a Hello Sense sleep monitor that was provided to us, to see if it could give us any clues as to what form Nintendo's upcoming QOL device might take. The Hello Sense Kickstarter was a success back in 2014 and just under 20,000 backers pledged over $2,400,000 to help realise this device; it's now out on the market, and can be bought from the likes of Amazon US and Amazon UK. Perhaps Nintendo is onto something with this concept, and the only problem with its approach to QOL so far is taking so long to bring it to market?
The Hello Sense sleep monitor is a neat sci-fi looking orb which sits inconspicuously on your nightstand, in addition to this you get a 'Sleep Pill' which is clipped onto the edge of your pillow, which actually monitors your movement during the night. A second Sleep Pill can be used for a partner's pillow.
Aside from simply monitoring how long you spend in bed and how much you move, the Hello Sense can also measure and advise when the following areas might be adversely affecting the quality of your sleep: temperature, humidity, air quality, brightness and noise level. As it's the Summer here in the UK at the moment my bedroom was a little too warm, so opening a window helped with that. My room was often slightly too humid too, so running a dehumidifier for 30 minutes before bed helped clear that up. Thankfully the air quality was good, though those in cities may have little control over that!
Unlike wearables that require frequent charging, one of the nice things about the Hello Sense is that it just works. No buttons to press when you get ready to go to sleep or wake up, the device is happy to fade into the background and do its job without any user input beyond the initial setup; this is very much in line with the non-wearable concept that Nintendo has highlighted in the past.
Another neat feature allows you to choose from a range of calming ambient sounds to play for a short time, which can help you fall asleep and stay slumbering through the night. Also, by monitoring your sleep cycle, Sense's Smart Alarm identifies the best time for you to wake up each morning.
When you wake up in the morning you can check the companion app on iOS and Android which gives you a personalised Sleep Score (out of 100) based on the conditions of your bedroom, and how well you slept the night before. While this is just a simple thing, it does encourage you to make adjustments to your bedroom environment and sleep habits, get better sleep, and raise your Sleep Score.
So how might Nintendo be able to improve on existing devices on the market - such as Hello Sense - which already do a solid job of monitoring sleep quality and encouraging change to improve this over time? Let's consider some blurb from Nintendo's QOL patent application which surfaced in July last year.
This display system is provided with a sensor, a projector and a control means. The sensor detects user information for calculating a state relating to sleep of a user. The user information is, for instance, biological information, such as pulse rate. The projector displays, by means of projection, a predetermined image. For instance, the projector displays, by means of projection, an image on a ceiling by projecting the image upward. The control means controls the projector corresponding to the sleep-related state calculated on the basis of the user information.
Monitoring heart rate would give Nintendo's sleep monitor a clear advantage over competitors. We've seen reports that aspects of Nintendo NX could be utilising Pixart Imaging's heart rate sensor recently, so this would definitely seem to be on the cards still. While an accelerometer which is used in Hello Sense's Sleep Pill can in theory tell when a person is awake versus asleep, technology like this can be prone to mistakes. By monitoring a heart rate the user would get a much more accurate understanding of the quality of their sleep. If this can be done remotely rather than having to wear a chest strap or wrist optical heart rate monitor, this would be all the better.
Would a projector improve the experience at all? The jury is still out on this, as it would only be visible when the room is dark it's questionable what use this would be; like a lot of patent concepts, this could be well off the mark in terms of a final product. You'd probably tap the device to get a projection of the environment in your room rather than firing up an app to see this. If you wave your hand over the Hello Sense, it will glow green if the room conditions are good, amber if something minor isn't ideal, or red if something is really wrong. But ultimately you have to fire up the app to get the actual details of what needs to be improved for a good night's sleep.
One of the other diagrams in Nintendo's patent shows a Wii Balance Board by the bed. Of course there is more to quality sleep than just environmental factors; being overweight can affect sleep. Some patent diagrams have also shown a smart device / tablet in a docking station; if reports on the NX having this sort of form factor are accurate as seems likely, there's possible cross-over.
Could Nintendo go beyond this and also use an app similar to Miitomo to question the user on their habits? How much have you exercised this week? How much caffeine have you consumed? Have you considered changes to your diet? If Nintendo can find a way to present this information to users in a way that is accessible and relaxing it could be really useful.
Of course the most obvious thing Nintendo could improve on with its Sleep Monitor is factoring gamification into the experience. As a video game company, Nintendo has the expertise to produce apps and interactions that can be entertaining, relaxing, or a mix of various qualities. This would tap into the basic desires and needs of the user's impulses, which revolve around the idea of status and achievement. Hello Sense's nightly sleep score out of 100 gives a target to be improved upon, but Nintendo might possibly be able to take this to the next level.
The area of QOL could be a notable opportunity for Nintendo if it can create compelling devices that people crave. Hello Sense's Kickstarter had 20,000 backers who collectively pledged over $2,400,000 to bring the device to life, so there is definitely a huge demand for systems like this. The question is whether Nintendo can successfully tap into the market.