Google Fit: a health shake half blended?

I started on a health kick 129 days ago, but it was to be a health kick with a difference, sure I wanted to improve my activity level, fitness, nutrition and lose weight but I also wanted to see what it was like to do this as much as possible on the Android platform/ connected as possible.
So began my research, I looked into smart scales, connected sleep tracking, digital beverage analysis (this was cool), activity tracking, calorie tracking etcetera…. From this I emerged victorious in some categories:

Connected scales: After looking at a few OEMs and models I chose the Withings Smart Body Analyser (mainly due to fit integration). I played with the app and it look quite good as an overall fitness dashboard, the app tracks weight, steps, heart rate, room CO2 levels and temperature, Oxygen saturations, sleep patterns the list goes on. It also had a nice full featured material looking app and a full featured web interface which made trending and data visualisation very easy. Again it had Google Fit integration, so I thought great all my data can be backed up there.

Sleep Tracking: for me I want a zero interaction experience. I didn’t want to press a button that said “sleeping now” or “awake now” nor did I particularly want a multi-coloured light shining in my face, no matter how much it enhanced my sleep. I didn’t want to strap a device to my chest, wrist or sleep on a plate. I also wanted a fully baked product that has interconnected data sets. In short I don’t know how I’m sleep because in my opinion the category is simply not ready, there are a few interesting products in or near development but nothing that got my money, yet.

Activity tracking: this is by far the busiest space within the quantified self/ digital health and fitness arena, throw a digital rock and you will hit an activity tracking band, device, app or watch. I had decided my only real activity change would be to consistently exceed 10’000 steps a day. As I already had an Android phone and a Moto 360 and I had been watching my steps with interest for the past few months anyway I decided that this would be enough and I didn’t need a dedicated device to replace the two I already had. This was my first “exposure” to Google Fit, and it left me wanting more. It seemed to be great at a collecting, aggregating and sharing my steps (although it doesn’t update on cellular data only over Wi-Fi with no setting to change that). Subsequent to this decision Withings switched from syncing steps from Google Fit to actually logging them on the phone in the health Mate App via the accelerometer itself, strangely (or not) the 2 services never ever match.

Following this an update to Google fit in around early May 2015 has rendered the activity tracking completely inaccurate and useless to the point I don’t even bother looking at it anymore. According to the Google Fit Developers Community on Google + a fix is comming.

Calorie tracking: Calorie tacking was an interesting category, whilst there was a lot of hits in the Play Store so many of them fall short. That said as a standalone app I’m not saying that MyFitnessPal is the “best” but with its connection to my withings account (both directions), massive online database of food and beverages and again web interface for data entry and analysis it was the best for my situation. Sure there are other services that provide perhaps more beautiful apps but for my previous decisions it was the right service. This is where I met my first Google Fit let down, which I initially blamed the developer for, a mistake they very gently corrected in their response. Nothing from MyFitnessPal was logged toGoogle Fit.

Google Fit
I was disappointed to discover that google fit included (in March 2015) “official” support for 15, yes 15, individual data points (some data points do have multiple values eg activity type can have multiple values ie walking running etc.). Google Play Services 7.0 did update the data set to include some sleep tracking data (light, deep, rem and awake values) and there are references in the API to extended body measurements (they added body Fat) so it does look like we are in the early stage of possible expansion, we’re up to 20 data point now, but it is still disappointing that they did not expand this upfront data set to encompass the typical values for health and fitness. Apple with their Health Kit data spec certainly gave a far broader set of values out of the gate.

However Google being Google they didn’t leave the Developers completely high and dry. The API also includes the ability to read/ write to both private and public custom data sets back to the “Google Fitness Store” (store as in storage not selling stuff). On the face if it that’s great.

If I want to build an app and record, blood pressure and the number of cups of water consumed and the types and nutritional values of food consumed I can. And I can write those to the private data set. At that point all google has done is provide another online data base via the Dev console (all be it with better data restrictions/ privacy protection) and again I am in platform lock down. By the very nature of that private API the only way to get the data out is if the Dev chose to link that data to another place, I don’t own my data the platform does, and unless I have a pen and paper and a lot of time I can’t get it out.

The public custom data type does solve this, and all the developer has to do is fill in a few forms, answer a few questions, provide the definitions and then hope it gets accepted, for each and every data point they want to add/ share. As of the date of posting the only two companies have been accepted Nike and Adidas who are interested in selling their devices so you know.
I feel I could tell this storey again and again with Google products and services. They have a great idea, provide a central repository for all of a user’s fitness (? Health) data that they can then share that data with whatever service they choose, but their execution is half done. Perhaps I have it wrong, maybe Fit was never met as a fully-fledged health repository.

The Fit App
As I said it was the partly the Google Fit service/ app that actually made me choose to use an Android powered technological approach to my health kick. So after I began feeding all of my information into the various services I was using and had begun to see results (both in terms of health goals but also in terms of data logging and analysis from those services) I went back to Google Fit to see how it was logging my progress.

According to the app developers I contacted I knew it was being fed my steps, activity times, distance travelled and weight. I also knew my 360 was measuring activity intensity over each day (not sure if it was going into fit), I was rather dismayed when all I could get back via the app was a log of steps and time active. So I thought I’d go to the web interface. Again all I could retrieve was my steps and activity times, I can add in my weight but there is no way to track it or even see what it is currently.

The Withings app and web interface is far closer to what I expect from an online health dashboard, with overtime metrics, graphs and analysis, prompts, gameafication of achievements, encouraging messages and stern reminders. However being a company there may be limits to the interoperability of their data sharing in time. Whilst they aren’t in the GPS enable fitness tracker business or the calorie counting game they will continue to provide data import and export, but if they ever move into those spaces I would expect them to lock out other providers (as they have with sleep tracking), and unless I buy their new product I may be high and dry.

What I hope to see from google is this same kind of health and fitness metric recording, reporting and analysis. I would love to be able to assemble a bunch of best in class devices from various OEMs (obviously fit enabled) and then go to my Google Health Dashboard or a 3rd party app dashboard whom ever does it better (pulling from the fit data store via the API) and review, track and manage all of that data in the one integrated place. But with the current state of the API and their own app we are a long way off that reality.

As a consumer facing service Google Fit is currently a long way from enabling you to truly seize control of your health and fitness data. As I have said maybe I am being too harsh, perhaps I am expecting too much, but in the competitive market Google is in can they afford to let up on this emerging quantified self front?

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