Google can now track a person’s heart and respiratory rate without a wearable

While more health-conscious consumers are buying fitness trackers and smartwatches during the pandemic, there’s still a sizable portion of the American population that has yet to purchase any wearable. Google may see this as an opportunity to target its Android smartphone users with the Google Fit app, which now can measure a person’s heart or respiratory rate by utilizing the phone’s camera. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure®, just 34% of Android owners in the US own any wearable, meaning that Google can uniquely reach two-thirds of the Android base with its Google Fit app.

It may not be as reliable as a dedicated fitness tracker or smartwatch, but giving Android users a way to measure their vital signs without having to invest in any new devices is a smart move. Moreover, Google may generate enough interest in the idea of health/fitness tracking, that it could incentivize a portion of the base to eventually buy a new wearable, possibly one from Fitbit, which Google now owns.

To measure heart rate, Google Fit leverages the camera to analyze color changes in a person’s fingertip (when placed over the lens), and Google’s sophisticated algorithm then estimates blood flow. For respiratory rate, a person simply holds the selfie camera near their head and torso area, and the app then scans body motions to calculate an estimate of breaths per minute.

“While these measurements aren’t meant for medical diagnosis or to evaluate medical conditions, we hope they can be useful for people using the Google Fit app to track and improve day-to-day wellness,” the company said.

The Google Fit app was tested to work across a variety of skin colors and ages. Google is rolling out the service initially with its own lineup of Pixel smartphones but expects to expand the functionality to a wider variety of Android phones in the future.