A Botched Implementation: Owlet Dream Duo

Overview of the Owlet Baby Monitor

The Owlet Dream Duo/Dream Duo 2 is a baby monitor system that not only allows you to monitor your baby’s sleep but to receive an in-depth analysis of your baby’s sleep quality. What’s advertised as a duo might be more accurately represented as a trio: a Wi-Fi camera, smartphone app, and a “sock” sensor that tracks heart rate and average oxygen. The Owlet Dream Duo 2 retails for $399 while the original Owlet Dream Duo is slightly cheaper at $369; the individual components of the Dream Duo and Dream Duo 2 are also sold separately.

What’s the difference between Owlet Dream Duo and Dream Duo 2?

Both the Owlet Dream Duo and the Dream Duo 2 contain a Wi-Fi camera and a sock sensor. The Owlet Dream Duo contains the first-generation Wi-Fi camera and lacks three key functions of the Dream Duo 2:

  • Cry notifications
  • Video clips
  • New color options

The Good: Benefits of the Owlet Baby Monitor

Wi-Fi | There are both advantages and disadvantages to utilizing a Wi-Fi baby monitor versus a Bluetooth baby monitor. The main advantage of the Owlet Wi-Fi camera is being able to check in on your baby wherever you are, especially if you’ve left your little one with a babysitter and you’re physically away from your house. The key disadvantage of a Wi-Fi camera is that the technology is useless if your house is disconnected from electricity for any reason, like during bad weather.

Smartphone App | Again, there are advantages and disadvantages here. The main advantage of using a smartphone app as your baby monitor is that you don’t have to carry around an extra monitoring device; you’ve already got it in your phone (which I imagine you carry around already). The key disadvantage of a smartphone app as your monitor is that you can’t watch your baby and use your phone at the same time. Especially in the early weeks, you’ll probably want to watch your baby for long periods of time as you get used to leaving them to sleep on their own.

Heart Rate and Average Oxygen Monitoring | It can be hard, especially for first-time parents home with baby for the first time, to consider closing your eyes to sleep while your baby’s sleeping. If you’re reading this in advance of welcoming your first child into the world, you’ll have to trust me on this. It takes a few days to get used to being asleep while the baby’s asleep, giving up the control that consciousness provides – even if the baby is inches away in the bassinet. This is where the unique heart rate and average oxygen monitoring features of the Owlet provide much-needed peace of mind. This applies during the early days of new-parenthood but also during the inevitable days of baby sickness. Hearing your baby cough or sniffle for the first time is one of the worst experiences of a parent’s life. While being able to track your baby’s heart rate and average oxygen doesn’t cure the anxiety, it can prevent it from being too overwhelming. The Owlet technology has an alert system in place for when potentially dangerous levels of average oxygen or heart rate are detected, so you can sleep in peace.

The Bad: Cons About the Owlet

There are a few issues with the Owlet that may make you question the purchase of a Dream Duo. With all of the options available in the baby product marketplace, anything that makes you second guess the quality or safety or a certain product is worth considering – especially when it’s a fundamental product like a monitor system.

Owlet 2021 FDA Warning Letter

One of the first things you’ll see when you Google “Owlet” are press releases and articles about the discontinuation of a previous product called the “Smart Sock” due to a warning letter sent by the FDA in October 2021. The problem was the way Owlet was marketing this product. According to the FDA, the Smart Sock should have been classified as a medical device (and regulated as such) because of the notifications provided to the user based on the heart rate and average oxygen monitoring. To be clear, the warning letter did not raise concerns about the safety of the “Smart Sock” product. Owlet responded by discontinuing the “Smart Sock” (but NOT recalling it), addressing the FDA’s specific concerns, submitting documentation for “FDA Software-as-a-medical device,” and re-releasing their product as the “Dream Sock.” Read more.

Owlet Monitor’s Fuzzy Image

Another issue with the Owlet monitor is one that’s likely an issue with all WiFi-based monitors: a fuzzy image. If you’re like me, I still check the monitor regularly during baby naps and whenever I wake up during the night to make sure I can see my baby’s chest rise and fall (baby is eight months old at the time of writing this blog). It’s much easier to do that on our Bluetooth monitor than it is with the Owlet (we use both).

The Ugly: Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Owlet

Some of the largest downsides of the Owlet are poor implementations that are particularly frustrating because the solution seems so apparent to the user, a parent. Was there user testing involved during product development? Focus groups? Any actual parents involved? In my opinion, these qualities paired with those in “The Bad” section make Owlet not worth the (large) purchase.

Out-Of-Battery Sock Base Music

One of my largest complaints is this: the sock charging base plays music when the sock runs out of battery. It’s peaceful baby music, sure, but totally unnecessary! To be fair, the Owlet sock has a decent battery life. It claims the full battery lasts 18 hours, though in my experience it’s been more like 12 to 14 hours. So if you’re a responsible parent and leave the sock charging whenever you’re not using it, you should be fine. But it’s my opinion that the user is going to forget to charge the sock at some point, and it’s very possible for the sock to run out of battery overnight. When that happens, you don’t want the dainty Owlet music to wake up the baby! We’ve heard the out-of-battery music through the monitor before and quickly disabled it on the app (albeit, fumbly and sleepily in the middle of the night) before the baby woke up. But it’s my firm conclusion that noise from the sock base to indicate the sock has run out of battery is unnecessary. Note: the noise also plays when the Smart Sock fails to find a reading when attached to the baby’s foot or is unable to connect with the base station.

Unrealistic Required Distance Between Base Station and Owlet Smart Sock

The Owlet Base Station, which is the part of the system responsible for charging the sock and displaying color notifications (plus the playing of the notorious out-of-battery lullaby), must be within 10 feet of the Smart Sock. In the words of Owlet, the distance is also “without obstacles like walls, furniture, or people, to ensure a good and consistent connection.” Most people have a nursery, right? So according to these stipulations, the Base Station needs to be in the nursery – the same room as the baby. That means that all of the colorful notifications and sounds occur in the same room as the baby – while the baby is trying to sleep. The baby doesn’t need to know if the Smart Sock is working or not! Just the parents! My frustration with the product is really showing in this particular section… But frustration is warranted. I suppose I can understand that technological barriers might prevent separating the Smart Sock and the Base Station any more than ten feet. But then why utilize color and sound notifications via the Base Station at all? Why not send notifications exclusively through the app? It’s these unanswered questions that indicate to me that the product development was not well tested. As a first-time parent, I wouldn’t have realized that these seemingly small details would be so relevant and irritating. However, it only took a few uses to recognize how insensible these features are.

My Last Word

I’ll be honest. I’m going to keep using the Owlet for three key reasons:

  1. It was expensive and it’s already installed. It’s not worth getting rid of it.
  2. When baby is sick, obtaining healthy heart rate and average oxygen data is comforting.
  3. It’s similarly comforting to check in on baby at home when I’m out and someone else is watching him.

I just want to reiterate one more time how avoidable some of the key issues with Owlet are. I would love to learn more about how Owlet receives feedback and/or incorporates user testing in its product development process. I’ll be interested to see how they improve on their existing product in future iterations (and what price point they deem acceptable to charge for these improvements).

Have you had your own positive or negative experiences with Owlet? I’d love to hear them. Email me at karacredle@gmail.com.

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