Google has announced that an upcoming software update will soon allow Android users to gain valuable biometric insights without the need for any new hardware aside from what they already have.
The new features will allow for the measurement of a user’s respiration and heart rates using the camera on their smartphone, in a move that Google hopes will help it close the gap with main competitor Apple in the fitness tech and healthcare sectors.
The respiration measurement tool works by having the user pose for their camera as if they were taking a selfie. While in front of the camera, Google’s updated OS will measure the user’s breathing by detecting even the smallest movements of their chest.
The heart rate monitoring also uses the camera module, though it works in a different manner. For this new feature, users will hold their finger over the rear camera’s lens, covering it. A software update will then allow for the analysis of subtle changes in color to the user’s fingertip which will then provide insights on blood flow.
As CNET reports, the decision to add these features as software updates rather than via new hardware is one Google made with an eye to gaining on Apple’s lead in the fitness market by not requiring consumers to buy more hardware they hadn’t already invested in.
“It turns out that relatively few people in the US, let alone the world, actually have wearables,” said Jack Po, a product manager for Google Health. “So one of the things that we really focused on was trying to get it on the most ubiquitous device that’s probably available, which is of course the cellphone.”
Google said it tested the new features on a number of people with varying health backgrounds, ages, and with varying skin tones in order to ensure there would be no instances of bias that have been a cause for concern with other computer vision-based applications in recent years. The company also was sure to address any privacy concerns the new capabilities may raise, noting that it will not be using the biometric data collected from the new heart rate and respiratory features in its targeted ad databases.
The new features are expected to make it to Google’s Pixel flagship line — and will come in the form of updates to the Google Fit app — before finding their way into a wider range of Android phones in the coming months.