The fortunes of companies go in cycles and it's usually product-based. I remember the days when Uwatec had the market for diving computers virtually to itself and Suunto was an also-ran. Then Ari Lahtenmaki, the boss of Suunto in those days, showed me the Suunto Vyper computer, complete with its then-revolutionary push-buttons and I knew they had a winner. Within a year Suunto was the market leader in dive computers
The Finnish company has continued to develop its range of dive computers and very good they are too. Nowadays, when I dive, I always choose to manage my dive using a model from a range that encompasses everything from the simplest leisure-diving to mixed-gas closed-circuit adventures. I'm no longer in the first flush of youth and I've never had any ill-effects from any of the great deal of diving I've done over a long professional diving career.
However, I was at the annual international diving trade show in America a couple of years ago when I saw the boss of Suunto UK having a drink with the former boss of Scubapro/Uwatec UK in our hotel bar.
Being the natural wit that I am, I approached these former arch-rivals and observed that they now had something in common. Both companies made computers with only black & white displays.
By this point, Suunto and Uwatec's sales were being eroded by interlopers in the technical diving market that had introduced colourful OLED displays and these were becoming very popular. I have to say that for a time I had one myself and thoroughly enjoyed using it, especially at night or when ambient light levels were low. The only problem was that these OLED displays were hungry for battery power and you needed to be sure to keep them fully charged between dives.
Meanwhile Suunto soldiered on with its reliable monochromatic computer LCDs that certainly dispensed the information that proved to keep me safe The company came out with the all-singing all-dancing HelO2 and eventually the DX (D ten) advanced computer watch that used an updated algorithm for technical diving, but was equally at home managing a simple bimble around a coral reef.
Nothing more exciting appeared to happen in the way of new products from Suunto but unbeknown to the outside world, its R&D department was working overtime.
The bosses at Suunto was determined to develop a product that would top the Suunto dive computer range appropriately and at the same time blow the independent technical diving computer manufacturers out of the water.
After thousands of hour of field testing (with actual dives to 150m deep) and five years of development, on October 4th, Suunto launched the Suunto EON Steel Dive Computer
It has a full colour display provided by Thin Film Technology (TFT) that is far less power-hungry than OLED. The screen is optically bonded so that there is no air space to cause problems under pressure. It uses Xensation glass, the German equivalent of Gorilla glass, and the case is a combination of stainless-steel and glass-fibre composite. It's tough. The pressure sensor is media-isolated.
Firmware is updatable by the user by either PC or Mac and the display is fully customisable with up to four alternative screens per dive mode. Modes can be preloaded from the Internet via a home computer. You can move elements of the display around to have them exactly how you prefer.
It has a newly developed and powerful processor that reacts in only seconds. The battery takes only four hours to charge from empty and is good for around thirty hours of diving. Of course it's gas integrated but with a new digital system that allows up to eight different tanks (each fitted with its own integration pod) to automatically synchronise with the wrist unit. The CCR free-upgrade will be available in 2015.
Every individual unit is pressure tested to 100m deep and the algorithm is the same Fusion RGBM as employed in the successful DX computer watch. In fact, when I dived it over a week's period, the information it dispensed was exactly in line with the Suunto DX I wore alongside it. It is rated to 150m deep although the casing of the computer will go deeper without failing.
So what is it like to use underwater? A complete joy. The countdown timer for deco-stops and safety stops, or when used as an independent timer screen, displays seconds and minutes. That's gratifying when you would otherwise get a one-minute stop but it is actually only thirty seconds. When mandatory stops are required it changes from green to red. It has an easy-to-use fully tiltable compass too. The ascent-rate monitor burns red if you get it wrong.
This is the future. If it all sounds too good to be true, you're probably thinking the catch is going to be the price, but Suunto are positioning it at the top of its range but at a price that competes with any existing technical diving computer that sports a colour display. With a single gas-integration pod, expect to pay not much more than a grand. I can see Suunto staying as brand leader for many years to come.
Happy Diving - John Bantin