On the tail of a finalized Fitbit acquisition, Google just announced a Google Fit upgrade that brings vital-measuring features to the company’s non-wearable mobile devices. Starting next month, Pixel users will be able to get respiratory rate and heart rate readings through their smartphone’s cameras.
These camera-based vitals give people who don’t own a Fitbit or other Wear OS smartwatch a way to periodically check their health data at home. With this update, the Pixel’s front-facing camera will use a combination of your chest movement patterns and AI to provide a respiratory reading that Google says is accurate within one breath per minute.
Meanwhile, the rear camera will be able to recognizing subtle color changes in your skin when your fingertip is held over the lens, thus offering a pulse reading. According to Google, the algorithm is accurate within 2% based on the company’s testing.
It’s important to note that the Google Fit team tested these features on a wide range of skin tones. In the past Google’s biometric scanners have struggled with racial bias, so it’s reassuring to learn the team collected diverse data for its vital-measuring algorithms.
Users will be able to take readings in the Google Fit app. The UI will walk you through positioning your phone so you’re properly in-frame. As far as privacy is concerned, your recording isn’t saved anywhere. Only the final measurement is added to your Google Fit dashboard.
These measurements aren’t intended to replace visiting the doctor or any other FDA-approved health tool you use on a normal basis. You’re encouraged to keep tabs on your readings so you know how to identify an irregular measurement and seek medical help if needed.
Google isn’t the first company to leverage smartphone cameras for health measurements. Amazon’s Halo activity tracker and wellness service takes you BMI readings through your phone’s front-facing camera. However, using this feature requires owning the physical Amazon Halo band.
The benefit to Halo band, or any other of the best Fitness trackers or best smartwatches, is the continuous measurement of certain vitals. Manual tests will be required to take heart or respiratory rate readings through a Pixel camera.
If you’re interested in learning more about your body and overall wellness, a wearable has more capabilities than your phone. That said, this Google Fit upgrade gives people who can’t afford or don’t want a wrist-based device an accessible alternative for checking their vitals.
The new feature will make the Pixel’s already-great camera even more capable when it goes live next month. Google is working on bringing these new Google Fit tools to the app on out-of-brand smartphones, too. So one question remains: Do these camera-based vitals brings us any closer to a Google Pixel Watch?