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Why Google is pivoting away from step-count-based fitness tracking


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Photo: Getty Images/Mark Webster

There is something so intensely satisfying about feeling your watch vibrate, alerting you that you’ve met your step-count goal for the day. You could be running the most mundane errand ever, like picking up your weekly grocery haul, but as soon as your tracker starts going off, it’s like, “Oh, heck yeah!” But soon, your mood might not be so easy to boost.

While all types of movement are better than no movement all, the latest healthy-living finding from experts at Google is about to burst your step-crushing bubble. Apparently, your count total isn’t the most accurate way to monitor health and fitness goals because it doesn’t take intensity into account. That’s why today, the tech giant is rolling out a big Google Fit update—the first one since the tracking platform’s 2014 launch—which will be reflected in both the app and wearables.

“Steps don’t capture the full picture,” says Margaret Hollendoner, a senior product manager for Google Fit. “We’ve worked with the American Heart Association to introduce Heart Points, which helps users achieve the right amount of intensity and activity so they can live their healthiest lives.” Cardiologist Kapil Parakh, MD, medical lead for Google Fit echoes the sentiment saying, “It’s about quality, not quantity.”

Moderate intensity, like walking your dog, will earn you a point, but if you increase that walk to a jog, you’ll get extra points, and even more if you’re doing a workout that really gets your heart thumping.

Google Fit updates
An up-close look at the new Google Fit, showing both Heart Points and Move Minutes. Photo: Google Fit

Now, users will see both goals: the intensity-capturing Heart Points and also Move Minutes, AKA a running measurement of any movement you do, like taking the stairs or walking from your car to your front door. This functionality is similar in spirit to the quantifying factor step-counting serves, but it measures time in minutes rather than movement via steps.

The app version of Google Fit tracks your stats via GPS, and using data you input, combined with your speed of movement, it calculates your qualitative data. For smart-watch wearers, the sensors do the tracking via a combo of GPS and heart rate, which will likely yield the most accurate reading. (The watch also offers on-the-go workouts that help you meet both goals wherever you are—pretty clutch when you can’t get to the gym.) Other apps like Strava and MyFitnessPal are also compatible, and you can enter info manually, too.

The news comes on the heels of a Fitbit update to the Fitbit Charge 3, which focuses on qualitative sleep data. This means that beyond telling you how long you slept, it can help diagnose sleep issues, like sleep apnea.

Basically, wearable tech just keeps getting smarter and more concerned with quality over quantity. Maybe humans could even stand to take a message or two from our gadgets—beyond the numbers  and data they already serve, of course.

Google is also on a mission to end smartphone addiction—here’s how. Plus, even therapy is getting the tech treatment.

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