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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.
2006 Microsoft Spot
Inevitably Microsoft had its own smartwatch project running, as part of its Smart Personal Objects Technology (Spot) Initiative.
As a Microsoft exec said at the time: "Imagine how handy it would be to have a travel alarm clock that, in addition to telling time very accurately and auto-adjusting to time-zones, could also wake you to your favorite WMA-encoded music, display information about road closures along your expected travel route, and deliver urgent messages." Yup, very handy.
This information was delivered via FM radio signals which could be picked up in around 100 US cities (plus some in Canada), through an antenna built into the watchstrap. The watch above came with a free year of MSN Direct Smart Plan which delivered news, business, technology and sports reports to the watch. For an extra $20 users could also get access to two days' worth of Outlook Calendar appointments and text messages via MSN Messenger.
The watches - perhaps unsuprisingly - weren't a huge success. As well as being bulky and requiring frequent charging, the small screen meant a limited amount of information could be delivered and the ongoing cost of subscribing to services made them a less than appealing prospect. Microsoft shuttered its Spot project in 2008. There have been rumours that Microsoft is working on a fitness band although nothing has appeared so far.