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Google-owned Fitbit wins FDA clearance for its heart-monitoring algorithm

The news: Google-owned Fitbit received FDA clearance for its new photoplethysmography (PPG) algorithm to identify atrial fibrillation (AFib), per a company blog post.

  • The algorithm can passively assess a user’s heart rhythm in the background while they’re still or asleep.
  • If it detects an an irregular heart rhythm, Fitbit will notify the wearable user, who can then speak with a healthcare provider to seek further treatment.

How it works: The algorithm will make Fitbit’s heart monitoring features easier to use than its current spot-check approach to detecting AFib.

Fitbit’s EKG app lets users assess themselves for possible AFib by recording an EKG trace, and users can then generate a report to share with their physicians. In contrast, the new algorithm will be able to detect AFib 24/7 without needing to spot-check manually, which can appeal to what consumers already like about commercial wearables: their ease of use.

About 43% of consumers think commercial wearables (like Fitbit, Apple Watch, or Oura) are easier to use than their medically prescribed devices, according to a January 2022 Software Advice survey of 476 US patients.

The bigger picture: Fitbit’s new algorithm will help it keep up with the Apple Watch’s features as Apple continues to dominate the wearables space.

Since 2020, the Apple Watch has offered users a similar FDA-cleared feature that regularly checks a user’s heart rhythm in the background for signs of AFib. Now, Apple is working on other health-monitoring features for its Watch, like blood pressure and fertility tracking, which will likely help the tech giant keep its top spot in wearable sales.

And despite a supply chain crunch, Apple maintained its lead in wearable shipments during Q4’21 by shipping nearly 60 million units, far ahead of Xiaomi, which ranked second with 14.6 million units, per IDC data.

  • Notably, Google’s Fitbit didn’t make IDC’s top 5 list this year (or in Q4’21), which likely means it had fewer than 9.2 million shipments (the number of wearables Imagine Marketing shipped, earning it the fifth spot in the list).
  • Fitbit’s new AFib-detecting algorithm could help the wearable company close the shipments gap between its competitors, especially as it appeals to more consumers this year with additional features, including glucose tracking.