Google Fit HeroSource: Jordan Palmer / Android Central

What you need to know

  • Google is enabling heart rate and respiratory rate measuring from your smartphone camera.
  • Respiratory rate can be measured using your front-facing camera.
  • Pixel smartphones will get the feature first, followed by other Android smartphones later.

Remember how Samsung smartphones let you measure your heart rate by placing your finger on a sensor on the back of the phone? That feature died when smartwatches became more ubiquitous, but Google plans to bring it back, and without adding any extra hardware to your smartphone. Following a recent redesign of the Google Fit app, today the company announced a new feature coming to the app that allows customers to use their smartphone camera to measure not only heart rate but also respiratory rate.

Measuring heart rate, which is determined by your blood flow, will require you to place your finger on your phone's camera lens. Using "powerful sensors and advances in computer vision", the camera can spot small changes in the color of your finger. This works similarly when measuring respiratory rate, which is a measurement of the rate at which breathing occurs. You would position yourself using your front-facing camera, which can detect minute movements in your chest as you breathe in and out.

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Google Fit Respiratory RateSource: Google

Measuring heart rate is a standard feature among the best Android smartwatches as well as the best fitness trackers, but the respiratory rate is just as important of measurement especially given the global impact of Covid-19. Google put these new features through clinical trials to test their real-world effectiveness and stresses that these measurements are not meant for any medical diagnosis, but instead allow you to "track and improve day-to-day wellness." And bringing these features to smartphones makes it more accessible for those who don't have access to extra wearables and peripherals.

With continued advances in hardware and software, sometimes the device that could be most helpful to your health and wellness is already in your pocket. Our team of researchers, engineers, and clinicians are exploring how everyday devices and inexpensive sensors can give people the information and insights they need to take control of their health.

These new measurement features will first arrive on Google Pixel smartphones starting next month, while Google plans to expand to other Android smartphones in the future.