Today, Google is rolling out a complete redesign of the Google Fit app for Android and the Fit section of the Wear OS app on iPhone. The new design focus is on closing rings, much like Apple (and everybody else). Google says that its rings are informed by health recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Every day, users will be encouraged to complete two goals: one based on “move minutes” and another based on a new thing called “heart points.”
Those metrics are an attempt to “abstract away the complication” of fitness tracking, says Margaret Hollendoner, senior product manager for Google Fit. “Move minutes” is meant to be a better metric than simple steps because it can capture several different activities since walking “might not be a great option” for some people.
“Heart points” is a little more abstract, but it’s designed to encourage people to engage in activities that will still get their heart rate up but don’t necessarily require a trip to the gym. “It’s as simple as picking up the pace when you’re walking,” Hollendoner says.
With both metrics, Fit will attempt to use as many sensors as are available to it and estimate the rest. If you use a Wear OS watch, it can track your heart rate directly and also automatically detect when you start exercising. Fit won’t require a Wear OS watch, but it definitely works better with one. It can also work with health data from other devices that are compatible with Fit.
As with all tech companies, Google is careful not to cross the line into making actual health claims with Google Fit. Instead, it is saying that it worked with the AHA and WHO to set up Fit so that it can help users track their progress toward achieving the physical activity guidelines the groups recommend.
Those goals are roughly 150 minutes of “moderate” activity per week and 75 minutes of “vigorous” activity. So the move minutes track daily progress to moderate activity. Heart points track toward the vigorous activity goal, but the “points” abstraction means that Fit can award more points for heavy exercise while also still rewarding less strenuous activity. (Fit will still show users more traditional metrics like step counts and estimated calories burned.)
In any case, the Fit app will start every user with goals it thinks are appropriate and move them up as they achieve more. Hollendoner says the system will offer suggestions within the app. For example, it might suggest that you only need another 20 minutes of exercise to hit a weekly goal, even if you missed your rings earlier in the week. In other words: Fit will try to help you alter your behavior, but it might make you feel a little less bad when you take a rest day.
Patrick Wayte, SVP for the center for health tech at AHA, says his organization’s contribution to the new system was more of an “active collaboration” or an “alignment exercise” than a full-on partnership with Google. The AHA’s recommendations will appear directly inside Fit if users go looking to see exactly what these Heart Points are all about. “This gives us an opportunity to get people oriented around the science,” Wayte says. He hopes that Fit’s coaching for users will “increasingly align them to the guidelines” the AHA recommends for physical activity.
Beyond the new metrics, the Fit app has generally been cleaned up, modernized, and simplified. When either the Heart points or Move rings are completed in the app, they’ll turn into an octagon. (Hollendoner calls it a “jewel shape.”) The Wear OS app will be updated as well, including those new rings.
A journal tab can show maps of previous runs and bike rides, track heart rates over time, and more. Users will have a setup process, but Google will take on more of the work to help them set goals over time. A floating “plus” button allows users to set up custom exercise routines.
Google has a lot of work ahead of it now as it fights to gain relevancy in a health tech conversation completely dominated by the Apple Watch and Fitbit. On its own, the new version of Fit seems nice but certainly not enough to pull mindshare away. That will probably require new WearOS smartwatches, and we should be seeing some of those come out later this year.