Many people consider the Apple SmartWatch the first smartwatch. That views history inaccurately though, since, like most technology, the development of smartwatches took time – nearly a century, in fact.
As experts on smartwatches, we want you to understand what you’re buying when you purchase one. You’re not buying a new, untested technology but a long-in-development technology that proved initially popular and encouraged engineers to hone it. The forerunner of today’s smartwatch hit the market in 1927.
If you define a smartwatch more strictly, Hewlett-Packard introduced it in 1977. An independent developer created the Linux smartwatch in 1998.
Microsoft followed up with the SPOT in 2003, building on HP’s research and partnering with that company and three other watchmakers. Finally, in 2014, Apple introduced its iWatch, now known as the SmartWatch.
Let’s explore the smartwatch in development. You can decide for yourself which of these “first” smartwatches really qualifies as the initial smartwatch.
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1927’s Wristlet Route Indicator Revolution
Although it had no onboard computer, the 1927 watch, called the Wristlet Route Indicator offered Europeans the ability to set their route using a scroll map cartridge operated by a knob on the watch.
It contained no electronics and GPS didn’t yet exist, but as a harbinger of things to come, it set the stage for developing watches that offered more than time and date.
1972 Brings the First Competing Brands of Smartwatches
Pulsar’s first wearable smart device offered the wearer the ability to tell time and use a calculator. The watch, called the Time Computer Calculator, used a red LED digital display. You had to use a stylus to operate its built-in calculator and to find out the time you needed to push a button, too.
The same year, the novelty watch company, Hamilton Watch Company and Electro Data Inc. a competing watch of 18-carat gold that sold for $2,100. The company creates specialty watches used in films with more than 500 film credits.
1977’s Hewlett-Packard HP-01
Computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard built upon the research of the watchmakers to create the HP-01, which debuted in 1977.
The digital electronic wristwatch told time and included a personal calculator, a 200-year calendar, alarm clock, timer, and stopwatch. It could also store information and keep an agenda.
The device used a 28-button keyboard and, similar to the Pulsar, required a stylus. For $695 you could wear your nerdom on your wrist.
The Fiercely Competitive Computerized 1980s
By the 1980s, people actually clamored for a watch that could do much more than tell time. We had the first personal computers and wanted that tech in our watches. 1982 brought about the Seiko TV Watch, so you could watch TV on your wrist in black and white.
You had to stay close to a receiver box and adapter though. The company’s 1983 product, Data-2000, combined a watch with an agenda minder and calculator.
To enter information, you had to clip on a keyboard. In 1985, the non-defunct Sinclair watch company introduced its FM Wristwatch Radio, which offered the time on an LCD, an FM tuner, and a piezoelectric speaker.
Partnering with Timex on its development, the watchmaker made only 11,000 before going out of business but invented the forerunner of the technology behind the FM Radio App on essentially every smart device today.
The 1990s Bring Live Updates and Distress Signals
The predecessor of OnStar debuted in 1995, by the Breitling company. The European watchmaker designed its Emergency Watch for pilots, oceanographers, and sailors. It could send a distress signal within 90 nautical miles of the wearer’s current position.
The tech saved the lives of two pilots whose plane crashed in Antarctica in 2003. Also in 1995, Seiko debuted the first messaging watch. Simply called the Seiko MessageWatch, it allowed its wearer to keep abreast of the weather, stock prices, and sports scores on a black and white screen.
Three years later, in 1998, the world saw its first real smartwatch that combined all of the technologies, leading to today’s smartwatch revolution.
Developed by engineer Steve Mann, it used a Linux operating system and could communicate with cell phones, personal computers, and other wireless devices.
Mann sold the Linux Wristwatch prototype and design to IBM, which launched it on a widescale in 2000. The device allowed the wearer to read email and pager messages, too, plus follow the stock market, weather, sports, and traffic all from a high resolution.
1998 Brings the First Fully Functional Smartwatch to Market
So, Apple didn’t create the first smartwatch and neither did Microsoft. Sony didn’t do it either. Those companies built on existing technology during the early 2000s to bring us to today’s wearable computing revolution.
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