Over the past couple of years, tech companies have been making their wearable devices waterproof and then – screaming it from the rooftops – announcing that the devices are perfect for swimmers. But are they really?
Not according to the founders of Phlex, four former teammates from the University of Florida's swim team. They've created their own wearable, the Phlex Edge, available on IndieGoGo soon for $199, which threads right into your swimming goggles strap. There are two buttons, one for marking different sets and a second that activates heart rate indications, which lets the Edge tell you what heart rate zone you're in.
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The Edge comes with a heart rate sensor that detects your heart rate from your temple. Press that heart rate indicator button and it'll alert you using haptic feedback to tell you what zone you're in; the more intense it gets, the more intense the buzz.
The device being threaded to the goggles' strap also keeps it from interfering with your stoke. Ryan Rosenbaum, chief marketing officer for Phlex, tells Wareable that wrist-based wearables are too obtrusive for swimming.
"You have a big Garmin watch or an Apple Watch on your wrist," he says. "And while those things do feel really not that big outside of the water, once you're in the water, things are very hypersensitive. Even if you have a toenail that was loose. You would feel that while you're swimming. So the way we compare it is you wouldn't run a marathon in sandals, so why would you be training for swimming with a watch on?"
These ideas first started floating into Phlex's heads as one of the founders, Polish Olympian Marcin Cieslak, came back from practice one day complaining about how technology for swimmers wasn't good enough. His coaches were asking him to go thousands of metres and he didn't feel like his body was in the right capacity to do it. He was feeling broken down but there was no technology that could prove it, so he confided in his team mates and they started brainstorming about what could be done.
They looked around at the wearable landscape and found out that devices at the time were too obtrusive for swimming, and even when they did use them they weren't accurate enough. They found that when they did 10,000 metre practice swims, the wearables would misreport them, sometimes telling them they'd swum as little as 5,000 metres. In our own testing, we found wrist-based wearables like the Apple Watch Series 3 and Garmin Vivoactive 3 to be quite accurate as swim trackers, but there's certainly plenty of room for improvements.
The team at Phlex felt like the big companies, from Samsung to Garmin to Apple, were more focused on waterproofing their devices rather than finding ways to make them good for swimmers. Those devices are also concentrated on other activities, like running and cycling, which Phlex CEO Luke Torres points out have different needs to swimming.
So Phlex concentrated on making a device just for swimmers, from Olympians to recreational swimmers. The companion app is the secret sauce here, as it's able to use algorithms and data from the device to detect what kind of stroke you're swimming. It's also able to recognise what you're doing and correct you, for instance if your head position was too high while you were swimming.
Phlex has also partnered with Olympic swimmers and coaches to put together workouts in the companion app. So if you're a recreational swimmer and want to lose weight, you can open up the app and look for a weight-loss swimming routine.
A question you can only answer 30 minutes after having a meal. Phlex is clearly coming from a place of passion. It cares about swimming and creating a platform and community for swimmers of all types, from the professional athletes to the everyday casual swimmer.
It's heartening that the team has got an Olympic swimmer among its founders, as well as other Olympians serving as advisors. Torres says the company also has "big investors" on board and that everything is fully funded. The crowdfunding campaign is largely to get the word out, soft launch and test market traction.
It's hard not to want to give the Phlex Edge a full-throated "check it out." The company has the backing and support of Olympic athletes, and it seems to have loftier ambitions of creating a community for swimmers of all strokes.