Before the iWatch: A history of smartwatches, in pictures

Before the iWatch: A history of smartwatches, in pictures

Summary: Updated: The iWatch isn't a new idea - tech giants have been trying to get smartwatches right for more than a decade. Take a tour from the earliest smartwatches to the very latest.


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  • 2001 IBM WatchPad

    Despite the recent excitement about smartwatches it's not a new idea – the tech industry has been trying to come up with a viable watch-like computing device for decades. Here are some of the highlights.

    Could you get more futuristic than an internet-enabled designer watch running an open source operating system?

    Sadly 2001 got there first: IBM Research and Citizen Watch built a Linux-based watch called WatchPad, which they hoped would illustrate the viability of the then-novel operating system "across all platforms, from large enterprise servers, to medium-sized and small servers, workstations, desktop systems, laptops and the smallest intelligent devices".

    The device featured a QVGA (320 x 240 pixel) LCD screen, Bluetooth and accelerometer – and ran on Linux version 2.4. It only had a battery life of a few hours.

    "Internet-enabled watches are a popular publicity gimmick," said CNET at the time, and many would still agree today.

    Still, the WatchPad wasn't the only smartwatch around – another early device of note was the Matsucom onHand PC, with a calendar-and-scheduling program, an address book, a notepad, an expense keeper, four games – and a joystick to navigate all of that.

    Image: Courtesy of International Business Machines Corporation, © (2001) International Business Machines Corporation.

  • 2002 Fossil Wrist PDA

    The Fossil Wrist PDA came in Palm and Pocket PC version and with a 190KB memory that could store 1,100 contacts, 5,000 To Do items, 800 appointments, or 350 memos.

    The 2002 device aimed to prove that a watch could deliver all the capabilities of a PDA (remember them?) into a piece of hardware that could be worn on the wrist. This was one of number of smartwatch models released by Fossil during this period. Fossil recently said it is working with Intel on a new generation of smart wearable devices.

    Image: CNET

Topics: Hardware, Smartphones

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  • Notable omissions

    I had a Mitsumi OnHand PC back in 2004 (also known as the Ruputer), which had address book and calendar support, bitmap graphics and an SDK for writing apps. The calendar and address book could sync with Outlook.

    Going further back, the Timex Datalink offered calendar and address book functionality but these had to be transferred from a PC by displaying a pattern of lines on the monitor.

    However, the most obvious nomination for a smartwatch must be the Android-based Motorola MOTOACTV.
    • Surprising number of devices when you start looking

      Thanks for the suggestions - the more you look the more you realise how many attempts at a smartwatch/iwatch have been made already. I'll try to add some more if I can track down some more images.
      • The first Microsoft smartwatch

        Simon still wears the Timex Datalink, made in conjunction with Microsoft. there was an IR adapter for updating it when CRTs weren't available. Bill Buxton has a list of 12 smartwatches on his digital collection at MSR, from the 1984 Casio touch watch that introduced double click and the 1984 Casio touch watch where you could write numbers on screen with your finger to the 1985 Seiko to which you could download you calendar to the Tissot touchscreen watch to the LG Dick Tracy nonsense a few years back. Worth tracking down one of his lectures on smart watches and UX.
      • Timex Datalink

        According to Wikipedia, this was the first watch that transferred contact and schedule data directly from your PC. I had one in 1994. It was a great device, at the time. These days, a smart watch is redundant to our cell phones.
        • BillDem: "These days, a smart watch is redundant to our cell phones"

          This may be true for many people. However, not everyone in the world has hopped aboard the smartphone train. And some who have might prefer not to have to carry their smartphone wherever they go.

          Obvious examples include outdoor activities such as walking/hiking, bicycling, running, boating/fishing (yes, fishing), canoeing, rock climbing, picnic, etc. Indoor activities such as dining out, watching a movie or play at a theater, going to a sporting event, shopping (even grocery shopping), etc. And, of course, health monitoring.

          I'm looking forward to see how the smartwatch market develops.
          Rabid Howler Monkey
          • No smartphone=no smartwatch

            If you do not have smartphone why would you want a smartwatch? I can understand smartphone owner deciding to have smartwatch but cannot make sense of scenario where person without smartphone would decide to get smartwatch. Just think of the reasons why somebody would not have smartphone:
            1. Too much hassle with charging every day
            2. Too expensive phone/data plan
            3. Basic phone is enough
            Now why would somebody who has no smartphone would get smartwatch that is:
            1. Too much hassle with charging every day
            2. Expensive
            3. May require smartphone to function
            Does not make any sense to me.
    • Seiko too

      Back in the 80s Seiko did some watches with a data bank and mini keyboard.

      Not sure if they were particularly "smart" but they certainly were geeky.
      • Seiko

        I had one of those and I liked it a lot. The phone sat in a cradle on the keyboard and recieved signals via an induction coil, similar to the way some phones use wireless chargers today. The big drawback was you had to re-enter your entire contact list when you changed the battery. Real PITA.
    • Timex Datalink

      I had 2 different versions of the Datalink watch and really liked them. The first one I received as a prize at NetWorld in 1997 and it came with software to sync up with GroupWise. I enjoyed showing folks how it got its data from a flashing CRT. It was great for getting me to meetings on time.
  • old touch screen Tissot

    I remember the Tissot T-Touch from 1999 with touch screen that looks like analog mechanical watch but with tactile functions on screen, not on this list but interesting...
  • HP 01

    You forget the Grandfather:
  • I.B.M. also invented Smartphones and P.C.'s

    Yet that didn't help anything, much like how Microsoft invented the Tablet, other people learn form YOUR mistakes YOU made in the past, this is great for innovation, but not for business, YOU invent a market, but YOU would never excell in it, the sad-story of I.B.M.
    Văn Minh Nguyễn
  • Fugly 80s and 90s Casio watches are missing

    Just google for "Casio calculator watch" with image search turned on. Hilarious !!
    • Hey! Some of us loved those things!

      They weren't just geek watches either! Everyone still had a pocket calculator... There were expensive "professional" pocket calculators too. When they came out they really were hi-tech; a wrist calculator and Filofax ... Can you imagine the possibilities?? No mobile phones yet....

      Oh yeah and the watch that could change tv channels! Again not all tv's had remotes then :-0!!
      • Absolutely!!!

        I'm pretty sure I owned on at some point when I was a kid. Those things blew my mind when they first came out, and their appearance on the marketplace was very important for me for one important reason: they confirmed that, yes, the future was going to be every bit as awesome as I hoped it would be. If they could shrink a pocket calculator and put it on your wrist then there was nothing cool from a tech standpoint that couldn't eventually be done... and just as importantly, that wouldn't actually be done. Because it's not enough that something cool be possible... there also have to be enough people out there who want the same things as you do for the market to respond to it. The fact that there were enough people out there who wanted to strap a calculator to their wrist told me that there were enough people out there who wanted to see the same flying car, gizmo, gee wiz electronics world that I did. For me... from a purely sociological standpoint, these things were very important.
  • Casio

    Though not a "smart watch" by current standards, I've been wearing a Casio DataBank in one form or another for over 20 years. The rugged lil' buggers have served me well.

    I look forward to seeing what the various players come up with for actual use. Then I'll probably buy another DataBank.
  • Interesting...

    Thanks for the article and history lesson. Food for thought.
  • 10 Year old Timex Datalink Watches sell for over $200

    Your list forgot to mention the Timex Datalink watches.

    These watches were programmable (hundreds of contacts, alarms, notes, stopwatches, etc.). Some of them were water-resistant to 100 meters and ran for years on one set of batteries. Try swimming with your cell phone on 2 year old batteries! 10++ year old used watches sell for $150 - $300 on eBay. This shows a dedicated user base. I was hoping that Timex would make some new models, but now I'll watch for the new watches coming to market.

    The early watches (which stopped working when Windows XP came out) were programmed by holding the watch up to a blinking CRT screen. The later ones were programmed via a USB cable and could both send and receive data.
  • wheres the motoactv?!!

    Motoactv. Probably the most powerful smartwatch out there with bluetooth 4. Gps. Wifi. Full colour screen. Android. Waterproof. Pedometer. 8/16gb. Music player.
    Cant beleive it was missed out!!
  • You forgot

    I still have the old Timex Datalink that you'd hold a few inches from the screen, press a button, and the screen would flash like crazy...importing your appointments from Schedule +.

    Ahhh...those were the days.