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An unknown company has a plan to change smartwatches forever

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A person wearing the Diesel On Fadelite X Mad Dog Jones smartwatch.
A person wearing the Diesel On Fadelite X Mad Dog Jones smartwatch.

“If you’re not in smartwatches today, especially as a traditional watch manufacturer, then we are the way that you get the right product for your customer.”

This is how Steve Prokup, co-founder of Mijo Connected, described the firm’s business, and it has me seriously intrigued and excited about the future of smartwatches. I spoke to Prokup over a video call during CES 2024, and although you probably haven’t heard of Mijo Connected, and it likely won’t be a name on an actual product you’ll buy in the future either, that does not mean you should ignore it. Here’s why.

Picking up where Fossil left off

Fossil Skagen Falster Gen 6 on the wrist.
Fossil Skagen Falster Gen 6 on the wrist.

Prokup has considerable experience in the world of wearables, having worked as head of hardware at Pebble before heading to Fossil, where he worked as vice president of engineering and senior vice president of connected devices. Mijo Connected’s other co-founder is Hai Nguyen, who also worked at Fossil on product management and research and development projects. It’s perhaps not a surprise that the company retains a connection with Fossil, as Prokup told me.

“We are not part of Fossil. But we are pursuing a similar path and do have access to some of the Fossil technology,” he said befoe adding that he was unable to expand further on exactly what that meant. It is, however, a strong sign of how seriously Mijo Connected takes smartwatches, as it makes complete sense to continue leveraging the experience of a longtime watch and smartwatch maker.

So, what is Mijo Connected, and why should you care? It plans to build a wearable device platform that some very familiar fashion and luxury brands will eventually put their names on, allowing them to bring out desirable, unique, and fashionable smartwatches that also have the right technology and software to back up the looks.

If that sounds like a familiar strategy, it’s not dissimilar to how Fossil launched smartwatches with partner brands like Diesel, Kate Spade, and Skagen. However, it has recently stepped back from such ventures, and Mijo Connected is primed to fill that space.

Smartwatches for fashion and luxury brands

1858 watch face on the Montblanc Summit 3.
1858 watch face on the Montblanc Summit 3.

“Our platform enables our customers to quickly launch completely differentiated products. So, for example, a brand wants to launch a smartwatch. They don’t want some generic app — it needs to be their name. It has to have their branding, their style. Same thing for the watch, right? It’s got to look like a watch from that particular company. That’s that’s what our platform does.” explained Prokup.

“The underlying platform has a completely unique ID, so the appearance of the watch, the watch case, the strap, everything is completely designed by [the brand] because they usually have very good design teams that know how to implement their brand’s style. The same thing with the app and even the data in the cloud.” he continued.

Mijo Connected will bring its industry expertise to brands that want to launch smartwatches (and, in the future, other connected mobile devices like wireless earbuds and smart speakers), but don’t want to invest in building partnerships with software companies, manufacturers, and then learning the hard way how to make a product that’s representative of the brand. Mijo Connected will do all this instead and will bring a huge amount of customization along with it, too, according to Prokup:

“We have a very similar approach to how traditional watches are manufactured, where the movement is wrapped in different designs and different watch cases. We can go to a premium titanium case, we can put pavé [a reference to jewels set into a bezel or case] on it, or go to stainless steel and other alloys, or to plastic. If somebody wants a lower price point plastic case with a silicone strap, that is also available from our platform,” he explained.

The extent of the customization and individualization provided has meant Mijo Connected is talking to both fashion and luxury brands about working together, including some luxury brands that have already released a smartwatch in the past. But what about the software that will run on these new smartwatches?

What about the software?

Someone wearing the Google Pixel Watch 2 with a yellow/green fabric band.
Someone wearing the Google Pixel Watch 2 with a yellow/green fabric band.

At CES, Mijo Connected launched its smartwatch platform with software company MicroEJ (which is pronounced as Micro Edge) and revealed that it will use MicroEJ’s Vee Wear operating system in the future.  While you may not immediately know the name, you may have already used MicroEJ’s platform on a wearable, as it has powered smartwatches made by Polar over the last few years.

I also spoke to Semir Haddad, chief product and strategy officer at MicroEJ, during CES 2024. He talked about the importance of complete customization on the software side too, so brands can make the device their own. He also revealed that one of the company’s strengths is in how its technology makes it easy to adapt Wear OS apps to run on a non-Wear OS smartwatch. It is working with a variety of different names already, plus it has struck a partnership with the Facer app to provide different watch faces.

Vee Wear has low power demands, but that doesn’t affect performance. Both of these are long-term issues on low-cost smartwatches that may have put some fashion brands off in the past. Vee Wear smartwatches will also work with both Android and iOS phones, providing more flexibility. Does this mean Mijo Connected won’t provide an option for a Wear OS smartwatch and is only working with MicroEJ?

“MicroEJ are a great partner,” said Prokup, “but we have a platform available for an RTOS watch, as well as a platform that we’re working on for Wear OS.” The choice of software options shows how it’s covering all smartwatch customization requirements outside of the physical design.

When are the watches coming?

The Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Series 8 showing the screens.
The Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Series 8 showing the screens.

Smartwatches at the moment are really dominated by three main models — the Apple Watch Series 9, the Google Pixel Watch 2, and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 — which are all excellent, but are not always what someone who likes traditional watches or fashion watches wants. Mijo Connected is exciting because it’s working to fill the gap in the market that was left somewhat open by Fossil, allowing brands that want to make a smartwatch to not have to go all-in and become a tech company.

The company may be new, but it brings considerable experience with it — and likely already has a good idea of what works and what doesn’t when making a branded smartwatch. That should give confidence to companies that may have avoided a connected product in the past.

So, when does Prokup expect the first models to arrive?

“We don’t have locked-down launch dates, but as you know, in this space, [the fourth quarter] is big for everybody,” Prokup hinted before adding: “We’re working on a large launch with a brand.”

An Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch 5, and Garmin Forerunner 265 lying on a desk next to each other.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Mijo Connected will mostly be the company behind the smartwatches and may not be a name you’ll hear unless you’re “in the know.” But Prokup also mentioned it may have a small product launch of its own, although not under the Mijo Connected name, at some point.

This would give us a great idea of what to expect from its smartwatches in the future and just how transformative they could be. This would also happen in an industry currently controlled by a select few tech brands that historically haven’t catered well to fashion and watchmakers. If all goes the way Mijo Connected is hoping, it could very well change the smartwatch market forever.