Taking the Pixel 8 Pro’s temperature sensor at face value

I think everyone is hoping that the Pixel 8 Pro’s infrared sensor does more than just temperature. Camera applications are the big desire, but we have no evidence to support that yet. 

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As such, let’s assume that the Pixel 8 Pro’s new out-of-left-field addition is just for health – well, that leaves many unanswered questions.

For starters, what’s the value of being able to take your actual temperature? High temps are a good indicator of being sick and informing when to mask up and isolate. It’s especially useful during the fall/winter flu seasons, as well as during pandemics. 

Some experts believe the likelihood of pandemics will only increase due to deforestation and animal extinctions, as well as climate change. It’s an uncomfortable thought, but a sound argument that Google might make to justify this feature. I’m sure there’s a staid way to get that across under the guise of preventive measures, but it’s going to be very weird for a consumer electronics company to be making it. It’d work out a lot better coming from Fitbit.

(Speaking of Fitbit, I’m surprised Google feels that phones need this feature. At the moment, Fitbit wearables only do overnight skin temperature variation, which does not provide an exact measurement. The Fitbit Sense 2 does have an actual temperature sensor but it doesn’t give out a reading, only fluctuations. The Apple Watch Series 8 does deep in Apple Health, but it’s not really meant to be surfaced and read as such. From that, it does seem wearables might eventually be able to do precise temperature readings that actually happen in the background and don’t require any manual action.)

Meanwhile, temperature tracking is useful for Cycle Tracking wherein Apple uses wrist readings “to provide retrospective ovulation estimates and improve period predictions.”

Diving deeper into the mechanics, what app would be responsible for measurements? Would it be built into the Fitbit app, or would there be some kind of dedicated system tool for taking readings and showing data? Google would also have to consider that this hardware, like actual thermometers, would likely be shared. Is there a multiuser experience on day one that takes into consideration readings that aren’t your own but you still want preserved, like for your family? There would also have to be an almost Incognito-like mode for friends that would be interested in getting a spot reading because they know you have a Pixel 8 Pro.

Putting a thermometer on a device you always have with you is genuinely interesting for instant readings. The fact that the result could be automatically charted and never lost is also novel for finding trends that could be intertwined with other health data, like step count and distance, with Pixel phones also offering sleep tracking.

However, for there to be trends, the readings presumably have to be taken at consistent times and body conditions. Off the top of my head, after you wake up might be the best period where you are in the same state. Would one reading a day be enough, though? If you have to take multiple, that might get cumbersome, especially if they have to be spread out and sometimes need to happen when you’re not in the comfort of your own home. We’ve seen that taking a reading could take just five seconds. The process of doing so is not particularly odd, but I still wouldn’t want to do it in public. 

Another consideration is how consistent people will be with taking daily recordings, even if prompted. The data could be useful in hindsight, but if they don’t get some value out of it in the short-term, I could see the habit not forming.

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2023-05-19 19:00:00