Fitness tech startup Form launches its first product today: augmented reality swim goggles.
You might think AR sounds like a bit of a gimmick for swimmers. I absolutely did. My Apple Watch is already doing a pretty good job of logging my swim workouts, so I didn't see the need for another gadget.
But after testing a couple of Form Swim Goggles this past month, I'm so impressed that I will never use the Apple Watch in the pool again.
Form Swim Goggles review
It's not often you discover a new type of thing you can't live without. The last time for me was Apple Watch.
There is no single feature that makes Cupertino's laptop indispensable. The beauty of it is that it combines so many practical features in a compact thing, like a digital Swiss army knife.
In that sense, Form Swim Goggles is the opposite. Instead of offering a variety of features, they do just one thing really well: log your swims. But thanks to this one-of-a-kind focus, Form created a product that I, like Apple Watch, cannot live without.
Apple Watch leaves swimmers high and dry
Apple Watch may be excellent for performing a lot of tasks, but it is not ideal for swimming. There are three basic problems:
- The touch interface is automatically deactivated during swim training.
- You cannot see the screen while swimming.
- Wristwatch creates features in water.
There is not much Apple can or will do to resolve these. It is only the nature of the multifunction device that there must be some design exchanges. As the saying goes: "Jack of all trades, master of none."
It's not just the Apple Watch. Most fitness suits can face similar problems in the pool. Runners and cyclists are well looked after, but so far swimmers have been lying high and dry. There is clearly a gap in the market for things that swim right.
I didn't even know I needed AR swim goggles
When I told a friend that I was reviewing AR swim goggles, he assumed it would be some kind of game that showed virtual fish swimming around you. To avoid this confusion, Forms marketing uses the term "smart display" instead of "augmented reality." And, strictly speaking, this is without a doubt an AR unit.
AR involves overlaying virtual 3D elements in the real world, so that they move you in perspective, as if they are an actual part of the environment around you. Apple's ARKit is the most obvious example of this.
But AR has also come to mean any kind of "mixed reality" headset that puts a screen in front of your vision, even though the elements on the screen don't interact with the environment. Google Glass was an early pioneer in this area, but it turned out not to be popular. Focals by North is a recent example, although the fancy new showroom in Brooklyn always looks empty when I pass by. But Apple's entry into the AR headset market could prove to be a game changer, reinventing the product category just as it did with the iPhone and iPod.
With impending competition from Cupertino, now may not seem like the best time to dive into AR. And when I first removed the Form Swim Goggles box and looked through their lens, I admit I was in doubt. The display looked pretty basic. It wasn't until I took them to the pool that I discovered how cool they really are. By focusing on swimmers, Form discovered a truly useful application in the real world for AR.
A great pair of swim goggles
AR may be Form Swim Goggles' key differentiator, but the first thing that struck me when I put them on had nothing to do with it. These are the best goggles I have ever worn.
Every other couple I've owned felt uncomfortable. They usually fit so badly that they make my eyes feel like they're about to pop out of my head. And they leak water every time I dive or turn. I just assumed that all goggles were like that. Not so.
Form swim goggles fit me so perfectly, with such a waterproof seal, that I quickly forgot that I was wearing. The product comes with five different nose bridge sizes to choose from, so they are sure to fit most head shapes. And no expense has been spared on the materials, such as the soft, subtle rubber around the seals.
In the pool, Form Swim Goggles gives excellent visibility. When I didn't look at the screen, I barely noticed the built-in AR mirror. And they never once fogged.
For $ 199, you'd expect these to be top-quality glasses, and they won't disappoint.
The display may not be fancy, but it is perfect for swim training
I have tried several next generation AR headsets with high resolution, mixed reality, color displays, such as Nreal Light and Vuzix Blade. By comparison, the screen doesn't look so good. It is only a color (yellow) and the text appears in blocking, low resolution. But it actually looks good in the pool. The simple, blurry design provides exactly the information you need, without distractions.
It reminded me a little of the original iPod user interface, which was also very simple but perfectly optimized for the task it performed.
I also found the screen surprisingly easy to watch. It only appears in one eye (right eye by default, but you can swap this if you prefer using left). I thought it might feel weird, but it didn't. The text flows in the middle distance and looks sharp to me, despite having to wear reading glasses these days.
It wasn't distracting to always have it on screen all the time in front of me. In fact, I found it strangely reassuring. This may sound silent, but despite being an avid swimmer, I've always been a little scared of water. Every time my head is lowered, I feel uneasy. Having the screen to focus on had a calming effect on me. I think the goggles even improved my swimming as a result.
A user interface designed by swimmers, for swimmers
Apple eliminated the need for physical buttons when it invented the multitouch screen. At least on dry land. In water, it's a whole different story. The type of capacitive touch screen sensors that Apple uses do not work properly when wet. Therefore, you must towel dry and disable waterproof mode before you can finish a swim with Apple Watch.
That's why I was so pleased to find that the Form Swim Goggle UI is based on good old fashioned buttons. . One for scrolling, the other for choice. It is simple, elegant and ideal for use in the pool.
During a training session, Form Swim Goggles shows just two stats, which keep things tidy. The top stats show the duration of the workout, while the bottom stats change depending on what you do. When you swim a length, it shows distance. At each turn, it shows the split time for the length you just completed. And when you take a rest, it switches to a rest timer.
This may sound a bit complicated, but in the pool it makes perfect sense. I began to anticipate seeing part-time at the end of each length, and this helped increase my pace of awareness. Knowing how fast I swam each individual length, was indispensable feedback, and helped me optimize my swim technique.
It pays to use your head when swimming
I was curious to see how Form Swim Goggles & # 39; accuracy will compare to Apple Watch. Both devices use a machine learning model on motion data to track your strokes and count your lengths.
But unlike the Apple Watch, which you use on your wrist, Form Swim Goggles is attached to your head. And your head doesn't move as much as your wrists when you swim. Can it really be as accurate?
From my experience I would say yes, it is at least as accurate. I've been testing it for a month now and it feels consistently solid.
There is good news that head mounted sensors work so well, because from a swimmer's perspective, watches can be a real move. Literal. When you try to perform a perfectly streamlined turn, the last thing you want is a damp watch attached to your wrist. It just catches the water and slows you down.