Are you trying to lose a bit of weight? If you’re looking for a new tool in your arsenal in the battle of the bulge, you’re going to love Google’s new smartphone health and fitness app.
After being available for months on Android Wear, Google has launched Google Fit for tablets, phones, and the desktop. The app allows you to track how much exercise you do on a daily basis while setting fitness goals and visualizing your progress.
But is it any good?
What Is Google Fit?
Google Fit is an Android application that uses the sensors built into most modern Android devices to track how much exercise you do. It allows users to set fitness and weight-loss goals and accomplish them by measuring progress and the types of exercises being performed.
It’s more than just an app, though. It also comes with tools that allow developers to build third-party applications around Google Fit, much like Apple HealthKit does.
Who Can Use Google Fit?
Google Fit debuted earlier this year at Google I/O and later launched on the Android Wear smartwatch platform. After a few months wait, it’s finally landed on your tablet, phone, and desktop.
The app has already gone live on the Play Store and runs on most Android devices running 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and above. I tested it on my 2012 Nexus 7 tablet, and it worked without a hitch.
There’s also a web app. This doesn’t do much besides provide an interface for you to track your progress from your computer.
How Do You Use It?
Google Fit is available as a free download from the Play Store. Before you install it, you’ll have to agree to let the app access your location and identity data.
The app consists of two main views. The first is how many steps you’ve taken, along with a countdown to your average.
The second view contains an aggregate of how much exercise you’ve done, along with a breakdown of whether that was cycling, running, or walking.
Once you’ve installed the app, it already starts working out how much physical exercise you’re doing, and of what kind.
From the settings page, you can set exercise goals. These can be specified in terms of exercise done and steps taken.
The settings page also allows you to delete your personal data from the Google Fit servers as well as manage connected apps.
Will Google Fit Respect My Privacy?
There’s a real perception amongst some that Google services are anathema to privacy. But should consumers be worried about Google Fit?
To the credit of Google, they’re pretty upfront with letting you know what data they gather. For example, you are asked to give Google permission to access your location data twice, leaving you with no ambiguity that this app will be following you wherever you go.
However, there is some cause for concern, especially when it comes to how Google stores your data, and who can access it.
From the moment of release, third-party developers have been able to create applications around Google Fit, with Google releasing a software development kit (SDK) for the platform. Part of this is something Google likes to call “The Fitness Store”.
It sounds like somewhere you’d go to buy a pair of track pants, but it’s not. It’s the central repository where all data gathered from Google Fit (and Google Fit third-party applications) is retained.
As you might expect, this contains some pretty innocuous data about your exercise patterns and goals. But it also contains some pretty sensitive data, including historical location data that shows where you were and at what time. Applications that are built around the Google Fit platform will have read and write access this data.
Now, it’s worth noting that Google requires developers to treat any personal information with respect. Their official developer documentation states that access to a user’s Fitness Store account should be done with the express consent of the user.
However, I’m concerned that it’s not immediately obvious to users that their location data is being retailed by Google Fit, and that third-party applications will have access to it. The only mention of this is in a piece of hard-to-read small print seen when you launch Google Fit for the first time.
I’m also concerned about the risk of a rogue Android applications gaining access to a user’s Fitness Store data, and the potential privacy implications that could have.
However, it’s worth reiterating that Google will let you delete any fitness data stored on their servers, and de-authorizing third-party applications is easy.
Are There Any Competitors To Google Fit?
Google Fit is Mountain View’s proverbial “hat in the ring” in the smartphone health platform space. This is a space that is increasingly becoming crowded.
Right now, the biggest and most polished contender (and Google Fit’s biggest rival) is Apple’s HealthKit, and its associated Health app. This comes preloaded on all new iOS devices running iOS 8 and has been available for the past month or so.
Furthermore, HealthKit can take advantage of the sophisticated M7 and M8 motion co-processor built into every iDevice, allowing for richer, more detailed data collection about a user’s physical activity compared to what Google Fit can collect.
But this isn’t just a two-horse race. Google Fit can also expect stiff competition from the recently announced Microsoft Band and Microsoft Health.
The former is a ‘Smart Band’ (don’t call it a smartwatch). Admittedly, it does much of what an Android Wear smartwatch (like the Moto 360) does. It can track your heart rate, see how many steps you take, how many calories you burn, and how well you sleep. However, it lacks much of the functionality of an Android smartwatch, and is more comparable in terms of functionality to a Pebble. It does have Cortana integration, however.
The Microsoft Band links into the Microsoft equivalent of the Google Fit, known as Microsoft Health. It can track the exercise you do and nicely visualize it, while simultaneously offering an open platform for developers to expand upon.
Windows Phone users can download Microsoft Health right now, but they’ll have to wait a little bit longer for the Microsoft Band.
I’d also be remiss in not mentioning FitBit, which offers an affordable, platform-agnostic alternative to HealthKit, Microsoft Health, and Google Fit. We reviewed the Fitbit One last year and were really impressed with it.
Will Google Fit Work For You?
Google Fit is a great way to passively track how much exercise you do on a daily basis. If you’ve got an Android device, it’s certainly worth a download. There aren’t many Google Fit third-party applications out at the time of writing, but when that day comes, Google Fit could rival HealthKit and Microsoft Health.
Have you tried it? Love it? Hate it? I want to hear about it. Drop me a comment in the box below, and we’ll chat.