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Suunto... More than telling time

By Gesel Pereyra-Mangilit

Gone where the days when watches were made exclusively to tell time. In the age of digital technology, the trend has increasingly leaned towards combining features that make life a lot simpler and easier for man. Today there are watches that can take digital photographs and that can connect its user to satellite.

One way or the other, it all boils down to one thing, information. Because what one knows can spell the difference between failure and success. More so in instances when man is pitted against the most unforgiving of all, nature.

Finland, though known as the bailiwick of the ever popular Nokia mobile phones, is also home to one of the most intelligent techno watch ever built, the Suunto watch. Its beginnings though, is far from anything related to time telling, as related by regional sales director Timo Pelkonen, who was in town recently for the Suunto's media launch.

Its founder, Tuomas Vohlonen, an avid outdoors man, had long been bothered by the inaccuracy of traditional dry compasses and their lack of steady needle operation so that, many times, he would miss a orienteering route. Being an engineer with an inventive mind, he filled a field compass with liquid which resulted to a compass that had a much steadier needle that gave better readings and a new level of accuracy.

Unfortunately, time was not on Vohlonen's side. He died three years later, the same year when his invention became known worldwide. Finland's Winter War had started and had been followed by Finland's War against the Soviets, which saw the need for more of his compasses, as armies were on move around the world and always needed to know where they were going.

The coming of peace, however, in the 1950s saw a changing of guards when his widow sold the company to a professor and two chemical engineers who, being sailing enthusiasts developed Suunto as a marine, and eventually, a diver's compass. Through the years, it has moved on to become a listed company in the Helsinki Stock Exchange with three main business areas: outdoors, diving and water sports, and electronics. But the highlight of its existence had been in 1997, when Suunto launched the world's first wristop dive computer, the Spyder, followed by the Vector, used by bikers and mountaineers, in 1998. These two were the first wristop computers to be based on sensor technology.

What started off as a company in the business of measuring direction has successfully moved on to measuring gradients, heights and depth as well -- on land and underwater. "Suunto watches, apart from being a perfect companion for outdoor adventures, being the official watch of the Nokia sailing team, has also been of used by geologists in the mining industry, even aiding in the present development of the telecommunications industry," shares Pelkonen. It is also a valued equipment by the US Army Special Forces. As technology advanced, it has been able to pack more and more features into smaller and smaller products such that the traditional measurements have later been joined by air pressure, time and heart rate. The Observer, launched in 2001, is 40 percent smaller than any previous Suunto wristop computer.

From these beginnings it may seem that the watch feature may have been added as an afterthought, but at what point in time in its 68 years of existence, was not clear. But by, 1999 when the Amer Group, which distributes Wilson, Atomic and Precor sporting brands, made a bid for Suunto and consequently had it delisted form the stock exchange in 2000, Suunto has been become even more visible in the market scene.

Today, Suunto has earned a reputation among sports enthusiasts for "replacing luck" with the addition of altimeters, Global Positioning Systems, scoring and performance calculation spreadsheets. These wrist computers have conquered the highest altitudes and the deepest dives while at the same time providing reliable data under extreme performance demands.

Among its latest timepieces is the G9 which, with its GPS technology, allows golfers to know where they are out in the greens, and displays information that minimizes the risk of ending up in hazards, thereby allowing the golfer to create accurate route plans. When synchronized with a PC, it can record and store data such as the distance of the shot and the golfer's playing history for later analysis, allowing the golfer to improve his game.

The G3 on the other hand enables the golfer to keep track of his own and his opponent's score. Golf enthusiast Anthony Suntay, who was present at the recent Suunto media launch, said it has not only improved his game but also minimized cheating. Suunto G3 displays the leader even when you have different handicaps and memorizes the players' key statistics during the round. It can also store 10 favorite courses in the memory.

The M9 is designed for both cruising and racing sailors. It can store up to 50 routes and 500 waypoints in memory, guaranteeing sailors more alternate routes. When racing, it displays distance to the start line in connection with the start timer to help cross the line at the right moment. It can also record changes in the wind direction and has a graphical barometer with a seven-day memory.

Imagine all that modern technology can offer available to you at the mere flick of the wrist. Could it be then possible that one day, braving the once unforgiving frontiers could become like a mere walk in the park to even the most faint hearted of us? I guess only time will be the judge of that.

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