Fitbit Co-Founder: The future for fitness is well beyond the wrist


Fitbit’s latest tracker, Luxe, is just one part of a bigger picture.


Fitbit used to be a small tool to calculate your steps. Those days are long gone: Fitbits are now continuous heart and sleep monitors, with desires that go even deeper. Now is owned by Google, Fitbit is still creating new fitness trackers, such as the New Luxe. The company’s subscription-based Fitbit Premium service continues to add new welfare practices, including celebrity guides like Chopra Deepak.

Where are things going next? Will Fitbit ever venture off his wrist? How can these trackers assist with diseases like COVID-19?

Fitbit co-founder and CTO Eric Friedman offers some insights on where Fitbit is right now, and where things are headed next.


Last year’s Fitbit Sense added EDA, ECG and temperature sensors. Some of these could eventually make their way to smaller outfits.

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Wrist-shrinking sensors

Fitbit plans to continue exploring more advanced sensors on its larger watches, while letting sensor technology trickle down over time into more optimized, smaller, lower-cost bands. “Because they have a bigger battery, and a larger type of mass, it’s easier to try out brand-new sensors in them and learn,” Friedman said of a sensor-starred last year. Sense of Fitbit – which added a temperature, a stress-sensing electrodermal sensor and an electrocardiogram, or ECG – compared to the much more ready-made new Fitbit Luxe, which mostly leans on its optical heart rate sensor at for things like sleep and stress measurements.

Friedman makes the comparison to where the heart rate was on wearables years ago, living mostly on large watches while smaller bands measure only steps. The optical heart rate sensor is also where the greatest evolution has occurred, adding many additional algorithm insights that did not exist before. “When we first launched a heart rate in our smartwatch, it was really about a kind of exercise experience,” Friedman said of where things were seven years ago. “But as things went on, we started to be able to pull more and more of the heart rate.”

He sees heart rate variability as an important new metric, and related to it, atrial fibrillation. Fitbit recently completed a 500,000-person AFib study, but unlike the Apple Watch, most Fitbits do not measure estimated atrial fibrillation via the optical heart rate sensor. For that, you would need a Fitbit Sense with its ECG feature.

Possibilities of blood pressure

Watching Fitbit is not checking for blood pressure yet, but the company hopes that a measurement called pulse arrival time could eventually be the answer on wrists. The pulse arrival time, which can be measured via a Fitbit ECG enabled Sense watch (but not yet available to Sense users), compares the electrical signal from the ECG with the blood flow measured by ‘ r optical heart rate sensor. Friedman sees this as a possible route to estimating blood pressure measurements down the road.

“Obviously, the ideal is that we get absolute blood pressure, but even if we get relative blood pressure and say, ‘Hey, something changed, you should look at it,’ for me a huge win, too, “Friedman said. “If it’s not relative blood pressure, something around heart health. There’s something there, we need to figure that out.” He says Fitbit’s progress on studying heartbeat is still in its early stages. “We’ve done things in-house, on friends and family. And we recently launched something where we’re asking a bunch of our users to help us by collecting data, seeing how we can produce a better signal, and ultimately helping them by giving them extra metrics. “

Few wearable outfits currently measure blood pressure, other than the physical swelling Omron HeartGuide, cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration, and recently Samsung Galaxy Watch Active models (versions 2 and 3), which require calibration with a blood pressure cuff. It’s a territory many companies still own trying to crack.


Google Hub Nest added sleep tracking tracking. Will it intersect with Fitbit eventually?

Chris Monroe / CNET

Ambient computing and off-the-wrist fitness

Google’s Fitbit acquisition certainly highlights potential integration with many other products, even off-the-wrist devices like the Nest Boost, which had just added experimental sleep tracking uses radar, but doesn’t hook into Fitbit.

“We’re in the very early stages of integration, there’s nothing to pre-announce at the moment,” Friedman said of Fitbit’s links with the rest of Google’s ecosystem. “But we’re really excited about what Google is bringing to the table in terms of AI technology.”

But ambient computing, a vision of the future is always linked to that a big focus for Google lately, could consider where Fitbit folds next. “I think ambient computing is really interesting, ambient sensing,” Friedman said. “I think there are some things that will make sense for Fitbit to come to market, there are some things that will make sense for Google plus Fitbit to bring them to market.”

Friedman sees Fitbit’s mobile app as the focal point, either way. “There may be manifestations of some of those things on your wrist,” but that wrist-based technology is, “not all and everything in the end.”


The Oura cycle, another wearable wellness, calculates a “readiness score” already adapted for use in environments like the NBA’s 2020 bubble. Fitbit explores similar concepts.

Scott Stein / CNET

Wearable as a warning for illness (and COVID)

Despite being over a year into the pandemic, wearable technology has not necessarily turned into a useful wrist indicator of the symptoms of an illness that many had hoped for. But many companies, Fitbit included, are still working on large studies that look at the relationship between wrist metrics, such as variability and heart rate temperature, on the probability of illness.

Finding a way to put these findings into a Fitbit software update is a bigger challenge. Friedman says, “We can look at things like HRV (heart rate variability), SPO2 (blood oxygen), heart rate, sleep patterns, all of these things. We’re working to bring that to market, working with the FDA on tuning the sensitivity and specificity to find out what is the right thing based on where the disease is today. “

Friedman sees this research as a door to help us be aware of the general symptoms of illness, similar to what already exists on devices such as the Oura ring, but he also worries about getting it right. “Technology is not infallible,” Friedman said. “We are working with the medical establishment and the FDA to find out what is the right thing for population health.” Friedman also continues to see challenges in building trust between Fitbit and its data and doctors who will make their own assessments. In health technology, it’s a delicate handoff.

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Fitbit’s future could be hyper-personalized

Friedman says the Fitbit Sense EDA electrodermal sensor for stress is the sensor he is most excited about. But over the next 10 years, it sees the Fitbit platform continuing to evolve as an increasingly customized tool.

“I think you’ll see a lot more of the behavior change stuff – changing behavior and adapting,” he said, also referring to finding ways to help people with potentially life-saving health warnings . “How can we be that seat belt for them?”

Fitbit did not find sleep tracking interesting, according to Friedman, until the information appeared to be actionable. He notes that the pandemic has been bad for health in many ways, but that sleep has actually improved, leading to a lower average resting heart rate.

Finally, Friedman sees the possibility of a more customized future where training tools and guidelines know how to treat people individually. “One of the things I underestimated when we first started Fitbit was brain power,” he said of trying to find ways that people will listen to suggestions and not see them as critical. The method may become increasingly different depending on who is using the service.

“I think that’s where things are going to go over the next five to 10 years, that hyperpersonalization is driving that behavior change. And then obviously, there are all sorts of other things to do measurement, on and off the body, I think is really interesting. “

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.