Pretty soon you won’t need a smartwatch to measure your heart rate or breathing. Google announced last month that an upgrade was coming to Pixel phones that would allow users to measure their respiration and heart rate via the cameras.
Android Police is now reporting that this feature will roll out to “supported Pixels” from today via an update to the Google Fit app.
We already knew that this would be a timed exclusive to Pixel phones, with the feature arriving on other Android devices at an undefined later date, but the word “supported” is still interestingly ambiguous here.
Does that mean any Pixel device that can physically run the software, or any that’s officially still supported by Google? If it’s the latter, then that rules out the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, which reached the end of their support period last October.
The feature will give Pixel users a way to check their heart rate and respiration, without needing a wearable that constantly measures their metrics. Measuring your heart rate involves you placing a fingertip over the rear camera, which then analyzes subtle color changes in the skin to give a pulse reading. Google’s testing shows it to be accurate to 2%, though obviously it’s designed for one-off testing, rather than providing constant updates the way the best smartwatches do.
Respiration tracking, meanwhile, uses the front-facing camera. Place the phone in front of you with your head and torso in view, and after monitoring your chest movements, the app will calculate your breaths per minute. Google claims that in testing it’s proved accurate to within one breath per minute; however, the company stresses that neither it nor the heart-rate measurement is intended for medical purposes.
Despite this, Google clearly feels quite confident in the accuracy of its technology, which should give it the edge over the various apps that claim to do the same thing, without any real scrutiny.
“We developed both features — and completed initial clinical studies to validate them — so they work in a variety of real-world conditions and for as many people as possible,” Shwetak Patel, Google Health’s Director of Health Technologies wrote back in February. “For example, since our heart rate algorithm relies on approximating blood flow from color changes in someone’s fingertip, it has to account for factors such as lighting, skin tone, age and more in order to work for everyone.”
If you own a Pixel phone, you’ll be able to try it for yourself from today. Keep an eye on updates for the Google Fit app, and do let us know how it works for you.