The Google Pixel Watch has finally rolled out a potentially life-saving 'fall detection' mode that's good news for owners of the smartwatch, but less so for Fitbit users.
The feature, which is rolling out from today (February 28), uses a combination of motion sensors and machine learning to tell when you've taken a hard fall. If you don't move or respond within a certain timeframe, your Google Pixel Watch will then call the emergency services.
Before that happens, you'll get a chance to steer it away from making a call. If the Pixel Watch detects that you haven't been moving for about 30 seconds, Google says it'll vibrate, sound an alarm and display an on-screen notification for you to tap. If you don't need help, you can just tap 'I'm OK' – or if you're at the bottom of a ravine, you can tap 'I fell and need help' to get connected to emergency services.
Fall detection isn't a new idea, with most of the best smartwatches already boasting the feature. If you own an Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch Series 4 (or later), you can turn the feature on or off in your iPhone's Watch app, and can even decide to only have fall detection turned on when you're working out.
Most recent Galaxy Watch models, including the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5, also have a 'detect falls' feature, which is an optional mode in the Galaxy Wearable app on Android phones. The Pixel Watch, then, is very much playing catch-up on this front, with Google having promised that the feature was coming back in October.
But it's also another slight slap in the face for the Google-owned Fitbit and owners of smartwatches like the Fitbit Sense 2, who've recently seen Community features like Fitbit Challenges and Groups removed from their fitness trackers. In fact, we've even gone as far as to argue that Fitbit as we know it is already dead, thanks to Google's antics – and seeing features like fall detection added to the Pixel Watch only rubs salt into the wound for Fitbit fans.
Analysis: a life-saver with large asterisks
Fall detection has now become a standard feature on smartwatches, but the different implementations all work slightly differently – and their digital safety net has some potentially large holes in it.
Google says the Pixel Watch's fall detection is "dependent upon network connectivity and other factors". So if you're planning a trip to the wilderness, you may want to also pack a satellite-connected sidekick like Motorola's new Defy Satellite Link.
Google is also keen to point out that "fall detection may not detect all falls" and that "your watch may not be reliable for emergency communications". In other words, it's very much a bonus extra for some additional peace of mind, rather than a superhero in smartwatch form.
Still, this is unfortunately more than Fitbit owners are likely to get, as even the best Fitbits lack fall detection or emergency SOS features. With Google actively removing features like offline music access and community extras like Challenges, let alone failing to add new features, it seems that Fitbit fans will need to move to the Pixel Watch to access the latest smartwatch tricks, or make the leap to one of the best Garmin watches instead.