Smartwatch History – A Quick Look Back at the origins of the Smartwatch
Smartwatches are one of the most recognizable pieces of wearable technology today. As the new Apple Watch 4 was revealed, I thought to myself how amazing smartwatches are. But I just couldn’t help but wonder about the origins of the smartwatch. So today, let’s have a little talk about smartwatch history.
Smartwatches became mainstream a few years ago, and they are kind of a new type of tech if you think about it. But apparently, the concept has been around for several decades now. I admit, even I didn’t expect that. So let’s dive straight into it.
In 1972, the world first had a glimpse of what smartwatches would be. During this year, the Hamilton Watch Company made the Pulsar. The Pulsar was the first digital watch, it had LED’s which would show you the time after you pressed a button.
The Pulsar. Image from Wikimedia Commons
It was also wrapped in 18-carat gold, and was sold for about $2,100 (Apple Watches aren’t looking so expensive now huh). Being the first of its kind, the Pulsar radically transformed the watch industry, and paved the way for the modern smartwatches that we have today.
After the release of the Pulsar, other manufacturers soon started to look for new features they could add to watches. A Japanese company called Seiko soon released a “smart” watch of their own.
Seiko T001. Image from WAI’S Watch Museum
Seiko released the famous T001 which could show TV images just below the digital time display. This watch however needed to be connected to a TV receiver so it could show the user some TV images that had very poor quality. Although it is certainly not impressive when compared to today’s standards, I think it is a pretty big step forward for the watch industry that time.
A fun fact about the T001: It was worn by James Bond in Octopussy.
Shortly after, Seiko released the Data-2000. This device could store 2000 characters, hence the name. It could also be used as a calculator. All of these can be done with the use of a detachable keyboard. It’s pretty bulky for a watch, but then again, how else would you be able to make memos or use the calculator?
Seiko Data-2000. Image from Wikimedia Commons
Not long after that, Seiko released more of these smart watches. In addition to the two watches mentioned before, they also released the UC-2000, the RC-1000, and the UC-3000.
During this year, Timex released the Timex Datalink. This watch was the very first watch that could wirelessly download data from a computer. This was another huge milestone for the industry. Data could be transferred to a computer with the use of a screen blinking light protocol.
Timex Datalink. Image from Wikimedia Commons
This watch was co-created by Microsoft, and appointments and contacts made with Microsoft Schedule+ (an earlier version of MS Outlook) could be transmitted to the watch with ease.
The Datalink was even used by NASA on some space travel missions.
This is the year that Seiko released yet another innovative watch, the MessageWatch. Based on the name, you probably already have an idea as to what this watch can do, in addition to telling time.
Seiko MessageWatch. Image from Burnett NL
This watch could receive simple and basic text messages from an old paging service which went offline years ago. In addition to that, it could also display some updates about various subjects such as sports and weather forecasts. The watch uses FM frequencies to do that.
With all of those neat functions, I think it came pretty close to what our modern smartwatches can do.
Steve Mann designed and built the world’s first ever Linux Smartwatch in 1998, and a prototype was launched 2 years later.
This watch was “designed to communicate wirelessly with PC’s, cell phones and other wireless-enabled devices”. This watch was also able to view emails and receive pager-like messages.
Steven Mann’s Linux Smartwatch. Image from Wikipedia
In addition, it could also be used as an access device for various Internet-based services. Out of all watches mentioned in this article so far, the Linux Smartwatch probably has the closest resemblance to modern smartwatches (I’m talking about the functions; and not the appearance).
This was indeed a great achievement for Steve Mann, and he was rightfully named as the “father of wearable computing”.
Samsung is one of the largest tech giants today, and they also have released great smartwatches these past years. But Samsung was already in this game way back in the 90’s. Samsung was in fact the first to develop a watch that was capable of taking calls.
Samsung SPH-WP10. Image from textlad
Back in 1999, Samsung released the SPH-WP10, which had an LCD screen and could be used for up to 90 minutes of talking.
This was certainly another big step forward for the industry. Now Samsung has certainly come a long way, and they now have some of the best wearable devices available in the market today.
IBM unveiled a prototype smartwatch that ran on Linux, called the WatchPad. The original WatchPad had 6 hours of battery life, and was later extended to 12 hours. It also had 8 MB of memory. This version was not very impressive even during its time, and it was later upgraded.
IBM WatchPad. Image from Phonearena
A year after the WatchPad was revealed, the WatchPad 1.5 was released. This watch featured an accelerometer, a fingerprint sensor and a vibrating mechanism. It now ran Linux 2.2, and had a 320 x 240 QVGA touch-sensitive display.
In addition to that, it also had Bluetooth, 8 MB of RAM, and 16 MB of flash storage. This watch was certainly an improvement when compared to its predecessor.
PDA’s (Personal Data Assistants) were very common in the early 2000’s. It was a mobile device that helped the user manage information, and resembles modern smartphones and small tablets.
Because of the popularity of PDA’s, Fossil manufactured and released a unique device which they called the Wrist PDA. This device ran the Palm OS and had 8 MB of RAM and 4 MB of flash memory. It also had a stylus that helped users with the small display.
Fossil Wrist PDA. Image from Jiri Brozovsky
This device could exchange data with computers, and had a virtual keyboard, a touch screen, and an infrared port.
It was seen as a revolutionary device, but it wasn’t perfect. It was actually quite heavy, weighing at around 108 grams according to Wikipedia. Unfortunately, production of this watch was eventually discontinued in 2005.
Microsoft would return to the smartwatch scene, and release the SPOT Smartwatch. SPOT stands for Smart Personal Objects Technology. This was an initiative by Microsoft that would personalize gadgets and other forms of technology.
Microsoft SPOT Smartwatch. Image from cnet
The SPOT Smartwatch was made to display information with just a simple glance. However, the SPOT Smartwatch ultimately failed as a result of some bad decisions made by Microsoft, and production was discontinued by 2008.
Sony Ericsson worked with Fossil, and together they released the MBW-100. This watch connected to Bluetooth, and could give notifications when the user was receiving calls and text messages.
This was pretty cool, and you would think that a watch with this feature would be very popular. That wasn’t the case however, since the MBW-100 could only work with Sony Ericsson phones.
Could you imagine how much bigger this watch would have been if only it was compatible with other phones?
A few things happened in the wearable industry this year. First, there was the very successful fitness tracker, the Nike+ Fuelband. This wearable device could track the number of steps you take, and give you the appropriate amount of Fuel Points throughout the day. A year later and the second edition was launched. It had improved light settings and looked better in the dark.
Nike+ Fuelband. Image from Wikimedia Commons
In the same year, the original Sony SmartWatch was launched. It was made as a companion device for the Sony Xperia smartphones. This watch had a decent OLED display, and a lot of people liked it despite some flaws. This watch has had two successors since then. The SmartWatch 2 was released a year later, and the SmartWatch 3 was launched not too long ago.
Sony Smartwatch. Image from Wikipedia
Pebble, which is no doubt one of the most iconic smartwatch brands ever, raised the highest amount of money on Kickstarter, reaching $10.3 million between April 12 and May 18, 2012.
After gathering a lot of money on a Kickstarter campaign, the Pebble smartwatch was released on January 2013.
This watch was the real deal back then. It was capable of a lot of things, such as displaying notifications and can even be used as a remote controller for your smartphone and some other devices. This watch was also compatible with both Android and iOS. The battery even lasted up to 7 days, not too bad at all.
Pebble Watch. Image from Wikimedia Commons
On top of that, the Pebble had a waterproof rating of 5 ATM, so it would be fine even if it was submerged up to 40 meters. This allowed users to go swimming while wearing the watch. The Pebble certainly set a standard that future smartwatches would follow.
Samsung also introduced the Galaxy Gear in 2013. This would be the first smartwatch that Samsung built after the SPH-WP10 way back in 1999. Although this smartwatch wasn’t that great, Samsung has certainly made up for it, as they have since released some high quality smartwatches. We’ll get into that later.
Samsung Galaxy Gear. Image from Wikimedia Commons
There was also another smartwatch that originated from a Kickstarter campaign during this year. The TrueSmart was a smartwatch made by Omate, a Chinese company based in Hong Kong and Shenzen.
Omate TrueSmart. Image from Wikimedia Commons
This was another big year for smartwatches. The Samsung Gear Fit was unveiled this year, and was well-received by the masses.
Samsung Gear Fit. Image from Wikimedia Commons
In addition, Samsung also released another smartwatch this year, the Samsung Gear S. The Gear S was capable of 3G connectivity, so it can be used even without a smartphone. These two Samsung devices had amazing display quality, and established Samsung’s dominance in that department.
Samsung Gear S. Image from Wikimedia Commons
This was also the year that the Android Wear (now Wear OS) platform was introduced.
Motorola also announced their Android Wear based smartwatch in 2014. The Moto 360 had a round design that really looked sleeker compared to some of its square or rectangular shaped competitors.
Moto 360. Image from Wikipedia
Apple also announced on September 9, 2014 that their first smartwatch, the Apple Watch will soon be released. This was perhaps the biggest news in the smartwatch industry that time.
The first Apple Watch began shipping throughout the world on April 24, 2015. People had different opinions about the Apple Watch. Some reviews cited issues with battery life and hardware malfunctions, while other people thought the Apple Watch was a great device that could compete with regular watches. Regardless, it is clear that the Apple Watch has made a huge impact; and Apple would move on to create more high quality smartwatches.
At the same time, Samsung unveiled the Samsung Gear S2 this year. It featured a rotating bezel and an IP68 water resistance rating, so it could be submerged up to 1.5 meters deep for 30 minutes. It ran on Samsung’s Tizen operating system, and had an AMOLED display. The Samsung Gear S2 had one of the most amazing displays during that time.
Samsung Gear S2. Image from Wikimedia Commons
Luxury watch maker TAG Heuer entered the game this year, and released their first smartwatch. Their first smartwatch was called the TAG Heuer Connected. This watch ran on the popular Android Wear operating system. This watch had several designs, and different straps available.
TAG Heuer Connected. Image from designmilk
Samsung looks like they’re on a roll; and they unveiled another smartwatch this year. The Samsung Gear S3 had two models, the Classic and the Frontier. Both still ran on Samsung’s Tizen OS, and had an IP68 water resistance rating.
Samsung Gear S3. Image from Wikipedia
More and more high quality smartwatches debuted in 2017. Apple released the Apple Watch Series 3 which many consider to be the best smartwatch so far. This watch had built in LTE cellular connectivity, which allowed users to take phone calls and send messages even without their phone nearby. Although one drawback here is that the Apple Watch Series 3 still needs an iPhone in order to be set up properly. It does not sync with other devices, not even other Apple devices like iPads and Macs.
Apple Watch Series 3. Image from Shinya Suzuki
Misfit, an American consumer electronics company launched the Vapor which ran on Android Wear. Users can navigate between apps by using a unique Virtual Touch Bezel on the watch. The Vapor focuses a lot on fitness, and is equipped with a heart-rate sensor and connected GPS, and is water resistant up to 50 meters deep.
Misfit Vapor. Image from Aaron Gustafson
Samsung yet again released another smartwatch this year. As the name suggests, the Samsung Gear Sport was a sportier version of the previous Samsung Gear Watches. Although this is a decent watch, it’s not much of an improvement over its predecessors. It does have a feature that allows users to play Spotify tunes even when they’re offline.
Samsung Gear Sport. Image from Wikimedia Commons
That’s currently all I have to say about smartwatch history. Like all great things, smartwatches had humble beginnings. The earliest known “smart” watch simply had LED’s that would show the time after the press of a button. Fast forward to more than 4 decades later and we’ve got very powerful smartwatches with amazing capabilities.
I think it’s fair to say that smartwatches have indeed come a long way. But even though that’s the case, they still have a lot of room for improvement, and I think smartwatches are here to stay. It’s kind of exciting to think about what the upcoming smartwatches will be like right?
What do you think about this post on the subject of smartwatch history? Do you think I missed something? Feel free to share your thoughts and add more to this post by typing in your comments below!