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GPS Goes Heads Up In The Open Water

FORM’s new firmware update brings smartwatch-connected open-water GPS capabilities to their already feature-rich heads-up display goggles.

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FORM Swim announced today that their smart goggles will soon be able to pair with specific Apple and Garmin watches (scroll down for the compatibility list) to display GPS and heart rate data live during open-water swims. FORM is a pioneer in swim technology, with an in-goggle display that allows swimmers to see their metrics without breaking form, and this update brings that technology to the open water, where it is arguably even more valuable, especially to triathletes.

This announcement reveals FORM’s strategy for increasing the value of their heads-up-display by making it a complement to a shortlist of other wearables. In 2019, the FORM Swim Goggles changed pool swimming by bringing onboard and self-contained live feedback metrics (pace, stroke rate, distance, and more) into view, through an in-goggle heads up display. The $200 goggles became even more powerful when FORM partnered with Polar to provide live heart rate data when connected to Polar’s goggle strap-mounted heart-rate sensors.

When I initially reviewed the FORM goggles, I was impressed by more than the heads-up-display in the goggles. The onboard AI is remarkable in its ability to record workouts accurately, decipher between swim strokes, and automatically start and stop intervals with unbelievable precision. A heads-up display is only as good as the information it shows, and because FORM was founded and designed by competitive swimmers, that information is excellent. With greater compatibility, FORM has been able to display more even information through the heads-up-display.

For all these great design features, the FORM goggles lack a GPS chip and therefore are limited in the open water. GPS is an entirely different beast—especially in the water—and admittedly something a brand wouldn’t want to do halfway. Without additional sensors like the Polar heart-rate meter and/or a Garmin or Apple smartwatch, the goggles can only display stroke rate and time in open water. The goggles shine in the pool, but on their own are not a great solution for open-water training.

Unfortunately, GPS watches aren’t a great solution on their own either in the open water. Due to the uncontrolled environment, open-water swimming is a challenging way to train for speed and efficiency. Even in the smoothest of conditions, it’s hard to gauge pace without a wall and a pace clock, or to accurately measure your stroke distance. Because of this, many elite open-water swimmers and triathletes still do a majority of their speed and efficiency training in the pool, using open-water sessions to practice swimming in rough water and in a straight line.

GPS watches have helped significantly by providing accurate-enough distance and pace measurements. Yet viewing a watch face while swimming, especially in a wetsuit, has its own challenges. Though some smartwatches have a “buzz” feature that vibrates after a preset distance, this can be hit-or-miss depending on conditions. FORM’s update will complete the solution by allowing swimmers to see those metrics in real time, and respond to changes in heart rate, stroke efficiency, and pace. The goggles can also use the smartwatch’s built-in optical heart-rate monitor as well. This may be the solution that allows open-water swim training to almost completely replace some of those hours staring at the black line—something that would benefit triathletes, people who basically only race swimming in the open water.

This compatibility comes with trade-offs too. When paired to a smart watch, the updated FORM goggles will essentially become a remote display, relegating that beautifully swimmer-designed AI to the lane lines. The display will show any information measured by the smart watch, including distance, pace, stroke rate, and heart rate, but the workout will be run by the watch, meaning the auto features, like interval notifications, and auto pause are limited to what is already on your watch. 

“Open-water capabilities is something that we’ve seen enormous demand for ever since we launched the FORM goggles last year,” FORM founder, swimmer, and CEO Dan Eisenhardt told us. “And as we look forward to the loosening of restrictions surrounding COVID-19, the timing for open water capabilities seemed right. For many of us, swimming outdoors is a highlight of the summer. We hope this will enable our customers to make the very most out of their swim, and their time in nature.”

According to FORM the firmware update will be available on new and existing units in “Summer 2020” and open-water capabilities will be compatible via Bluetooth LE with the following smartwatch models only via a Garmin Connect IQ app or Apple Watch app, respectively:

  • Garmin Forerunner 945
  • Garmin fēnix 5 Plus and fēnix 6 Pro
  • Apple Watch Series 5, 4, and 3
  • FORM hopes to open up to more devices in the future, but the above are the only smartwatches currently that have the memory and the BLE data field connection capability 

FORM Smart Swim Goggles

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