Talking Tech: Nixon Develops World's First Action Sports Smartwatch

Magicseaweed

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Updated 1959d ago

The folks over at Nixon are about to drop the world's first action sports smartwatch called The Mission, built specifically with surfers (and snowboarders) in mind. We caught up with Nick Everist, Nixon's product manager, advanced concepts, to talk about the tech and evolution of surf watches.

With the tide watch market well settled, how and why did you come up with the idea of the Mission smartwatch?
NE: The Mission was a natural evolution for Nixon.  As we moved into the space of “connected” watches with the Ultratide, the natural next evolution was a fully featured smartwatch.  The Ultratide is uber-focused – using connected technology to give only live surf information.

Lisa Andersen sporting the Ultratide.

Lisa Andersen sporting the Ultratide.

We knew we wanted to go beyond surf, and include some features specific to Snow, as well as some core everyday functionality.  The Mission goes well beyond all of this. While it does come preloaded with functionality to give live surf and snow forecast information, it is also a complete smartwatch platform.  It allows the user to fully customize its functionality and feature set by installing 3rd party apps, as well as benefit from a huge range of stock Android Wear features such as notifications, music control, navigation, “Ok Google” voice assistant support, and a huge amount of other functions.

How involved are your team riders in the development of the watch?
Nixon was founded on the ethos of Team Designed, Custom Built – and that runs deep in all that we do.  Every single product we create is a direct result of insight and testing by our global team of top athletes.  A great example of this is The Comp.  We spent a great deal of time with John John Florence, discussing his daily life at home and while traveling the world surfing.

Nixon worked spefically with John John Florence to create The Comp watch.

Nixon worked spefically with John John Florence to create The Comp watch.

We learned from him that having a watch with exact tide data wasn’t that important to him – since he spends every day so closely connected with the ocean, and prefers a more minimal approach to his watches.  What was more important to him was to have a watch that he could surf in, and feel like it wasn’t there – something that wouldn’t interfere with his free or competition surfing, and give him some very reliable but basic time telling features and a countdown heat-timer function.

He also found that while surfing heats, many times he would accidentally push a button and mess up his heat-timer, so we built a “Lockout” feature that can allow him to start his heat timer, then Lock it, so that nothing will stop it until the timer is finished. This guarantees that he never gets stuck in a heat not knowing how much time he has left.

John John's input was vital in creating new features.

John John's input was vital in creating new features.

In addition to the Lockout feature, we custom built every piece and component of The Comp so it could be the world's thinnest 10ATM / 100Meter digital watch.  It’s an incredible feat of engineering and development – it truly feels like you’ve got nothing on your wrist.  It’s simple, and highly functional – built for the specific needs of a top athlete, and by building a product for someone who is the best in their respective expertise – you get the best product possible for the regular consumer.  

What's the difference between a standard smartwatch and the Mission smartwatch?

Nixon team-rider Chippa Wilson.

Nixon team-rider Chippa Wilson.

We needed a watch that could keep up with us no matter where our days took us. In the ocean, on the snow, in the office, or a night out. Standard smartwatches are super delicate, and definitely can’t keep up with our lifestyle. The Mission is an all-terrain vehicle for the wrist. It's the only 10atm / 100 meter smartwatch – built with super tough materials, solid stainless steel, fiber re-inforced nylon, and super thick Gorilla Glass.

In addition to the construction, the Mission is also the first smartwatch to have the Qualcomm Snapgradon 2100 chipset – this is the most powerful chipset to date, and combines a huge features set with incredible battery performance and a full-round and full-color hi-resolution display with a touchscreen. It also has a huge host of sensors like stand-alone GPS (no phone needed), barometer, altimeter, thermometer, accelerometer, gyro, and more. So it's really akin to a super tough all-terrain truck, with a Formula-1 engine in it.  

Powered by Google Android – what does that mean exactly? Is there an app to go alongside the watch?
The Mission runs the Google Android Wear operating system. This is the software on the watch that runs everything – to set it up, you download the Android Wear app to your Android or iOS smartphone, and pair the Mission in a few quick steps. It is the most powerful Smartwatch platform, with compatibility for both Android and iOS. And has a huge amount of built in functionality, as well as ability to install thousands of different 3rd party apps and watch faces.

Why do you think no-one in the industry has created this product before?
The Smartwatch space is still relatively very young. Android Wear was launched around 2 years ago, and has been dominated by huge Consumer Electronics brands such as Motorola, Sony, and LG. As the platform developed, Nixon was one of the first real watch brands to see potential in the platform and jump on the opportunity to work with Google in the space.

Yep, even Rob Machado is on it.

Yep, even Rob Machado is on it.

Consumers are really just now learning about all the amazing things smartwatches can do for them, and app developers are just beginning to crack the surface of potential use cases.  We’re really excited to see all the amazing things people will develop for The Mission platform, and all the amazing places our customers will take it.

How long has this been in development?
Over two years.

Nixon has a pretty long history with surf watches. Could you take us through the main evolutions?
The first surf specific surf watches were just basic digital or analog watches with a water rating of 10atm or higher so they could survive a life in the water, and give the user access to current time. They drafted off the design and heritage of watches designed for scuba-diving. Then the addition of what we call “basic tide” was introduced as a feature to these watches, giving them an added level of functionality for surfers and others who live their life aligned with the rhythm of the ocean.

Nixon tide watches collection: The Ultratide, The Unit Dive, The Supertide, The Lodown, the Rhythm.

Nixon tide watches collection: The Ultratide, The Unit Dive, The Supertide, The Lodown, the Rhythm.

Basic tide uses the global average time between tide events, to give the user an idea of when the next tide event (high tide / low tide) is going to happen. So the user references a local tide source such as almanac or news agency, and sets it when the tide is known to be high/low and the watch will apply the average interval from that moment, giving them an idea of when the next event should occur.  It relies on the user to set the watch correctly, and also assumes that all locations follow the average tide patterns.

Basic tide works great, but it is not for users who want to know exact time and heights for their local beach – its best to use a s a general guideline, and the user needs to be OK with adjusting it at least once a month to re-align with their local spots actual tide pattern as it shifts slightly from the average. 

The next evolution was pre-programmed tides. We partnered with scientists to focus on specific surf spot locations, and predict the exact tide tables for each specific spot out into the future. Once we have the data collected for all the spots, it is loaded onto the watch – similar to loading data onto a hard drive to be referenced later.

Nixon's Lodown watch.

Nixon's Lodown watch.

Then the user can select their exact surf spot/location, and the watch will display the predicted tide information specific to that spot, for any given date.  This was a huge leap forward from using the general tide average method in “Basic Tide” watches, and gave users a much more accurate look at their spots specific tide patterns.

However, for many parts of the world, even the predicted data is sometimes not as accurate as it could be – especially as the prediction time goes further out into the future. When building the predicted data, it is calculated out over a number of years (usually 15 or more). Scientists have limitations when trying to predict out that far in advance, which means there can occasionally be some deviations from reality once you get out into the future.

Especially for regions such as Indonesia that can have very large unpredictable tidal variations year over year and have a significant a lack of solid government scientific data to help predict these shifts more accurately. This is where using forecasters that update tide data constantly is very beneficial. This is what lead us to make the huge leap forward to true real-time data with The Ultratide.

Instead of trying to predict way out in the future – we simply connect directly into the experts – who are constantly updating and revising the tide data.  The Ultratide connects directly with the reporters data feed, and gives the watch exact tide data that is updated to the minute.  If there is a slight change in tide predictions, we get it immediately.  It eliminates all the margin of error with predicted tides and basic tide averages.  It basically taps your watch directly into the source.

But we didn’t stop there – instead of just giving the user tide, we use the Ultratide to provide 10 real-time surf report data points.  So instead of just knowing the current tide, you can see the Surfline rating, wave height, swell height/direction, forecasted swell height/direction, wind, water temp, air temp, sky condition, and future tide – all updated in real-time as conditions shift.

CT rook Conner Coffin.

CT rook Conner Coffin.

So, with all that in mind, what's next for Nixon?
We’ll continue to build on the Mission family and our partnership with Google and Qualcomm – exciting things to come for sure.

For more information about Nixon's watch range click here.