Despite some of the biggest players in tech still lagging in terms of offering smartglasses options, there are nevertheless a number of smartglasses makers, including North and Vuzix, with consumer-grade smartglasses on the market right now.
Startup Form now joins the ranks of companies with a real product on the market available to everyday consumers. But, make no mistake, their wearables may not be the kind of smartglasses you're expecting while walking and driving around your city.
However, if you're a competitive swimmer or you have swimming in your fitness routine, Form Swim Goggles might be the right fit for you. We had the opportunity to take the AR fitness wearable on a few workouts, and here's what it's like to swim underwater with an AR display.
At first glance, Form Swim Goggles look mostly like your run-of-the-mill swimming goggles. Yes, the onboard computer protrudes from one side, but the mirrored anti-fog coating helps obscure the computer somewhat. The computer casing also houses the battery (which Form claims last up to 16 hours) and the optical engine for the AR display.
Out of the box, the goggles had a super snug fit, which is reasonable, since you want to keep water out while swimming. I have a fairly big head, though, so your mileage may vary. Nonetheless, the silicon strap offers some relief, but I found it difficult to adjust.
In addition, it comes with five sizes of replaceable nose bridges, but the default medium was fine for me. Form rates the goggles as waterproof for up to 32 feet (10 meters), which should be fine for your average lap pool.
Form Swim Goggles arrive packed in a branded carrying case with a porous bottom lid so that the goggles can dry off while in transit after swimming. The package also includes a proprietary charging cable, which attaches magnetically to the computer casing.
User input for the goggles is distilled down to a basic two-button system. One button doubles as the power button (hold down to power off and on) and the selection button for menus, and the second button advances the user through menus.
The monochrome display itself is very basic and somewhat retro — it's more Casio digital watch than Apple Retina display. If you look closely, you can see the unlit pixels. But considering the limited functionality of the goggles, the display does the trick.
In addition, a partnership with another fitness wearable company, Polar, adds support for heart-rate tracking via OH1 and OH1+ sensors. To accommodate this functionality, all Form Swim Goggles ship with a special bracket that attaches to the goggles strap to hold the heart rate sensor against the user's temple.
With set up complete, you're ready to hit the pool. For me, that meant getting access to an indoor lap pool. Luckily, my neighbor has a membership to the local YMCA and offered to get a guest pass. In the meantime, I took it for a jog.
According to a company spokesperson, the Form Swim Goggles use machine learning to monitor head movements in order to approximate the movement of the user's arms and body. This method enables the system to detect when the user makes a turn or when the user is at rest in order to automatically pause the workout. The startup spent two years accumulating sensor data from a wide array of swimmers, from beginners to professional athletes, to formulate an accurate model.
In theory, the Form Swim Goggles should measure activity during a run as well, right? Or, at least enough to capture footage of the display in action. So I hit the trails.
Upon hitting the parking lot of my local running trail, I powered up the Form Swim Goggles and then the Polar sensor, which connected immediately. It was an overcast day, but daylight was fairly bright. Nonetheless, the display was vivid and readable.
With goggles strapped on, I punched through the menus to start a workout. When it came to setting the distance, I went with "unknown," which only displays time and heart rate. Then, I started my run and, as luck would have it, the display began tracking the elapsed time and my heart rate. Moreover, when I eventually came to rest later during the run, the display showed that the workout was paused. However, since it doesn't provide metrics relevant for a runner, such as distance and pace, the goggles are a non-starter for runners.
On the day of reckoning, I headed to the YMCA to give the device a test in its natural environment. So the moment of truth comes and I climb into the pool and occupy the nearest lane.
I hit the button to begin the workout, and then I shove off for a freestyle lap. Within my first few strokes, a progress line showed up (indicating that the device was detecting movement) and then the time showed up.
Keep in mind, swimming with goggles is a novel experience for me. I don't usually think about bringing goggles when I go to the pool, and, when I do, they rarely work as expected. With the Form Swim Goggles, though, the tight seal kept all of the water out of my eyes. So they're already the best goggles experience I've ever had.
But the display, as basic as it was, floating in front of me as I swam along...it was a pretty cool experience. As I reached the wall, I found that I was pretty winded, so I stopped to rest. The goggles detected the my resting state and paused the workout session! After making the turn, the display announced that I had traveled 25 yards. I then switched to breaststroke and swam underwater for a few strokes, all while the display continued to clock away.
After completing the workout, the display cycled through the collected metrics, such as workout time, distance, and calories burned. After syncing the workout, I found even more data, including strokes per minute and the kind of stroke employed during each lap.
Swimming isn't a part of my normal workout regimen. When I do workout, I manage to get a run in or lift some weights, and I track my performance during every workout. For those normal workouts, a smartphone or a smartwatch is sufficient to track my progress.
However, the very nature of the sport of swimming makes smartphones and smartwatches an unwieldy prospect, despite most being waterproof nowadays. Also, it's not realistic to expect swimmers to look at their wrists in between strokes to check on their lap time. In this respect, Form's hands-free smart goggles with its always-on display is an ideal solution for the sport.
Based on what we've seen in the past few years, it's clear that for AR smartglasses to go mainstream, manufacturers will need to strike the right balance between design, function, and price. In terms of design, consumer-grade smartglasses need to be crafted for everyday wear. They also need to provide a wide array of AR content, apps, and features that deliver utility and convenience with hands-free usage. And they need to be offered at a price that delivers value in addition to functionality.
So far, Form, perhaps due to its highly specific use case, doesn't hit all these marks. And while $199 is low compared to the current consumer smartglasses landscape and higher-end smartwatches, it's limited functionality actually reduces its value. I mean, would you spend $200 "just" for a tip calculator?
But Form isn't trying to be a mainstream consumer device, per se. While waterproof smartwatches and fitness trackers may provide some level of performance data, Form Smart Goggles are purpose-built for swimmers.
The company's early-mover advantage and price affords Form a headstart into unchartered territory. But it already has a new challenger on the blocks in Vuzix, the wily veteran of smartglasses makers. At CES 2020, the company unveiled Smart Swim, a device with an embedded computer, battery, optics engine, display, and a camera that attaches to a regular pair of goggles to turn them into smart goggles.
So while the consumer smartglasses race is the one that industry observers really have their eyes on, the smartglasses for swimmers race is shaping up to be a worthy competition as well.