Fitbit will still lead the way on hardware innovation and new sensors, even after its buyout by Google. That’s the opinion of Fitbit CTO and co-founder Eric Friedman, who spoke to Wareable in an exclusive interview.
We caught up with Eric to find out about the company’s outlook under Google, and whether it would be more focused on services than new hardware:
“I still continue to see Fitbit leading the way on innovation,” said Friedman, who pointed to EDA sensors launched on Fitbit Sense, and large-scale studies of heart rate variability (HRV) as evidence that the company was still pushing the boundaries of hardware and sensors.
“I feel like Fitbit has a role to play in terms of proving out these sensors, demonstrating the technology and the usefulness.”
Eric Friedman - Fitbit CTO & co-founder
And even as the company’s hardware numbers are eclipsed by huge competitors, Friedman says that Fitbit is still a leader – and others copy.
“There's a quote that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The competition has been flattering the heck out of Fitbit for the last several years. We recognise that people are looking to us for thought leadership, but then quickly copy us,” Friedman said.
And Friedman says that even Apple, which has come to dominate the smartwatch market, followed Fitbit’s lead:
“When smartwatches first came onto the scene, most of them took a phone and put it on the wrist. It took a couple years, but everyone from Apple to Samsung went, 'oh actually Fitbit on this health and wellness thing, they've got something,'" he said.
“They radically pivoted and have been following us. We take it as a compliment.”
Fitbit's EDA sensor detects signs of stress
So if Fitbit is leading and the others are following – where will a Google-owned Fitbit take us next? According to Eric Friedman, it means devices that blur the lines of what we’re used to:
“We've got some trackers that actually run apps, and so are those trackers or smartwatches? I think you're gonna see an increasingly blurring between those two categories,” said Friedman.
And the company has already shown where it’s going in terms of features. Its large-scale medical trials and studies are well documented, and the company is looking at metrics like pulse arrival time based on its ECG tech.
“That’s what actually what excites me more than new sensors,” he said.
Fitbit's ECG sensor is core to new developments such as pulse arrival time
This week we’ve seen a new Fitbit patent for a smart ring that would use a different types of heart rate and blood oxygen detection than we’ve seen on Fitbit’s wrist wearables. And the company has already stated its interest in launching blood pressure and glucose monitoring features.
“A lot of very smart researchers have looked at things like pulse arrival time, pulse wave velocity, a number of those metrics, trying to tie it back to blood pressure. There's often been smoke, but no one's actually found the fire.”
“We're working on our own kind of approaches,” Friedman said.
Life under Google
Fitbit will power the activity tracking on future Wear OS devices
As part of Google, Fitbit will now power the fitness tracking elements of the revamped Wear OS 3.0, which will launch later this year with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4.
At Google I/O, Fitbit CEO James Park teased that the company would release a Wear OS smartwatch. Friedman declined to confirm more information on that, but we asked what does Fitbit had to gain from using Wear OS:
“It’s probably the hardware underlying Wear OS. The concept of big.LITTLE, which is generally an M class processor. Having a core or more of a phone level processing on your wrist lets you do more stuff from an interactive perspective, from a visualization perspective and from a real-time data processing perspective.”
But what will that offer?
Friedman wants to take Fitbit’s range of features and help people access and focus on what matters to them.
“Part of what excites me about AI is dynamic cohorting – understanding what motivates you, what motivates me," he said.
"Ideally, I would like to figure out what metric is going to work for specific people, and make sure that's front and centre for them."
And we won't have long to find out. We're set to find out more detail about Wear OS 3.0 in the coming weeks – and we could find out about Fitbit's first Wear OS smartwatch by the end of the year. Watch this space.
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