The Apple Watch is far from the first smartwatch in history. With its debut in the wearables field, Apple is hoping to do what it does best: Swoop in and revolutionize a niche technology with a lot of promise but few mass-market successes.
In the case of the smartwatch, Apple's tackling an idea that has existed in the popular consciousness since the 1940s. Check out the gallery above to see some of the concepts that paved the way for Tim Cook and his team.
Famous comic book detective Dick Tracy got his first wrist radiophone in 1946. During the same time period, there were several real attempts to create a similar device. In 1954, Sylvania constructed a prototype with transistors. In 1963, a Los Angeles company called Davenport & Waldon actually advertised one for $7. Sadly, with the exception of Dick Tracy’s famous smartwatch, none of the others worked as described. If they worked at all, that is.
This isn’t exactly a smartwatch by the modern definition, but a digital display featuring glowing numbers instead of hands seemed pretty darn smart in 1972, the same decade Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak teamed up to create Apple.
This Hamilton-produced Pulsar watch was the world’s first to feature such a display. It was 18-karat gold and carried a price tag of $2,100 (that's the equivalent of $11,949.50 in today's money, according to the U.S. Inflation Calculator). Hamilton provided a futuristic clock for Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the former head of the company's Pulsar division said that effort inspired his team to create the world’s first digital watch. The LED display was initially red, although a green version came later.
The Pulsar might have been the reality of digital watches around the time that Apple started, but what was predicted by the age’s futurists? The 1979 Usborne book Future Cities: Homes & Living Into the 21st Century describes the arrival of "wrist-phones" or “ristos.” These devices, the authors predicted, would work with cellphones and GPS equipment.
"City dwellers of tomorrow could have a small gadget of enormous benefit — a wristwatch radio-telephone,” the book notes. "With a wristwatch radio, you could talk to anyone, wherever you happened to be.... If you were late for an appointment, it would be easy to let the other people know.... It ought to be impossible to get lost in tomorrow's world, in a city or out of it.... The wrist-phone can provide guidance back to the nearest town.” Pretty accurate, no?
Imagine if Cupertino had tried to create an Apple Watch back at the time of the original Macintosh. In fact, that’s not all that far from the truth. Apple didn’t exactly make it themselves, but the Seiko RC-1000 Wrist Terminal could interface with a number of popular computers at the time, including the Apple II, II+ and IIe.
It arrived in 1984, and featured scheduling, memos, world times and a four-function calculator app — all with just 8KB of ROM and 2KB of RAM. Even better, its multicolored successor, the RC-4500, was known as the “Wrist Mac.”
From the mid-'80s until the mid-'90s, Seiko was the company most associated with smartwatches. This 1995 Seiko MessageWatch could show caller IDs (by way of FM sideband frequencies), as well as updating sport scores, stock prices and weather forecasts. You could even send messages with it.
Sadly, Seiko discontinued the service on December 31, 1999, thinking that the combined threat of mobile phones and the Y2K bug (remember that?) was going to destroy whatever consumer interest there was left in the device.
Tech pioneer Steve Mann was hailed as the “father of wearable computing” when he built an open-source smartwatch capable of running Linux in 1998. Two years later, IBM teamed up with Citizen to build the so-called WatchPad based on the latest version of Linux. It never made it to market, but it was packed with amazingly modern-sounding features including voice-enabled Bluetooth connectivity, a fingerprint sensor and an accelerometer sensor.
Samsung's 1999 smartwatch, the SPH-WP10, came about because of the company’s premature belief that the mobile phone market was already at saturation point. Working as a cross between a phone and a watch, the SPH-WP10 had a battery life of 90 minutes’ talk time, or 60 hours on standby. It cost close to $700. Few people remember it today, but it preceded the Galaxy Gear by more than a decade.
This 2003 smartwatch started development in 1999 when engineer Donald Brewer tried to get a version of Palm OS to work on a watch. At almost 45,000 cubic millimeters, the first prototype was described as a "boat anchor."
Brewer kept going, however, and millions of dollars were poured into a project that eventually produced a series of impressive smartwatches, capable of running a range of different apps. The line never shed its bulky aesthetic, though, while other common complaints included poor water-resistance, low battery life and a screen that was too dim to read and too small to manipulate text upon. It lasted until 2005.
Compatible with both iOS and Android, 2013’s Pebble smartwatch raised a massive $10.3 million through Kickstarter. Features include a black-and-white e-paper display, vibrating motor to alert you of phone notifications, ambient light sensor and accelerometer. The revised Pebble Steel added $100 to the price point, but looked a whole lot less geeky.
An Android Wear-based device released by Motorola earlier this month, the Moto 360 is one of the most stylish smartwatches we’ve seen. Along with the expected phone-pairing functionality, it also boasts a heart rate sensor, pedometer, ambient light sensor and wireless charging. It wasn’t universally adored by any means, but in terms of combining aesthetics with functionality, this is the smartwatch for Apple to beat.
Pebble today added three new additions to its popular smartwatch lineup, but they’re not the all-new Android Wear competitors you may have been hoping for. Instead, they’re actually original Pebbles with fancy new paint jobs — and they’re only available for a limited time.
Crowdfunding has been one of the best things to happen to entrepreneurs since the invention of the IPO. It's been pretty great for technophiles, too, giving us the chance to get involved with exciting projects at the earliest stage possible. Scouring through the pages of Kickstarter and Indiegogo, we've put together a list of the eight most tantalizing projects we've seen so far. What are they? Peruse our gallery to find out.
SITU is an attractive Bluetooth food scale that talks to your iPad. Created by former Apple employee Michael Grothaus — who came up with the idea while sitting in Apple’s Caffè Macs cafeteria — the device lets you see the exact nutritional content of any food you place on it, based on the food’s weight and broken down into calories, sugar, salt, protein, vitamins and minerals. The device itself is beautiful, too, with a simple but pleasing design that could have come straight out of Jony Ive’s workshop.
“This one weird trick” is usually a cue you’re in a part of the Internet where somebody is trying to convince you a British woman figured out a way to nab a new iPhone for just $10, or a guy worked out a totally safe steroid substitute doctors don’t want you know about. Not so in the case of Lunecase.
This iPhone case's one weird trick isn’t massively useful, but it is pretty cool nonetheless: Lunecase uses your device’s electromagnetic radiation to tell you of alerts you receive, then lights up the appropriate symbol on back to show if you’re getting a phone call or text message. Currently available for pre-order.
Milled from solid aluminum, the Elevation is the iPhone dock we wish Apple would make. What does it have over other docks? Attractive design, physical weight and an easy docking/undocking function, to name a few positives. There have been several versions since the first iteration of the Elevation Dock, but this is one crowdfunding project that definitely connected with the crowd needed to support it. Currently available for sale through its official website.
Apple is looking to out-feature this smartwatch with its long-awaited iWatch, but the Pebble is still a great device that works perfectly with your iPhone. Originally asking for just $100,000 on Kickstarter, the Pebble project ended up raking in a massive $10,266,845 in backer support. From its seamless integration with iOS — for notifications and easy control of iTunes and the like — to its own dedicated watch apps, Pebble is one of the best smartwatches to date.
How good is it? Even if the iWatch can do everything it’s rumored to do, I can still see why some users would stick with the Pebble.
Have you heard the one about Neil Young’s high-definition iPod? I’ll admit I chuckled when I heard about the PonoPlayer, as did a lot of people, but few were laughing when the project racked up $6,225,354 in backer support against a stated goal of $800,000. With "Pono" being a Hawaiian word for “righteous” or “pureness,” the PonoPlayer hopes to deliver the same kind of leap from today’s MP3s that we saw when cassette tapes made way for CDs.
Young’s goal is that our "cultural history should be preserved for enjoyment of the people in its highest possible form forever.” And despite the PonoPlayer's slightly wacky design, he’s convinced it's the tool to accomplish it. Pono will soon begin shipping more than 15,000 PonoPlayers to its Kickstarter backers.
Is there any more obvious sign of the increasing role computers are playing in our lives than the fact that we now use them in the kitchen? Even 20 years ago, the idea that we would want to expose our laptops or desktops to the same surface we were chopping meat and onions on would have seemed preposterous. If you’re anything like me, that changed the moment the iPad came along, and you got used to being able to watch TV or check out a recipe while you were cooking. The MagBak, a super-thin iPad case that lets you magnetically stick your tablet to your fridge door, is particularly great for this application. It’s a neat design and works excellently.
One of the biggest — and arguably most controversial — crowdfunding campaigns was for the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset. One of the biggest because it saw backers pledge $2,437,429 against a $250,000 goal; one of the most controversial because after that influx of capital from the well-meaning public, the Oculus' creators promptly sold pit to Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook empire for the grand sum of $2 billion.
Everyone, with the conspicuous absence of Apple (for now!), is announcing VR projects today. With possible applications in everything from video games to movies, it’s looking like one of the most exciting paradigm shifts to hit tech in years.
As for Oculus’ current status? We’re waiting for the second big iteration, but Oculus VR is currently cracking down on people looking to turn a profit by selling their preordered devices before they even ship.
Compared to the world of virtual reality promised by Oculus, a device that makes your phone beep when you lose it sounds pretty minor. But just because a device solves a relatively run-of-the-mill, commonplace problem doesn’t mean there’s no demand for it. The Duet's Indiegogo campaign proved that perfectly, when it surged past its $5,000 goal by 2,137 percent to raise $106,830.
The Duet is a smart Bluetooth tag that watches out for your iPhone. Working with the PROTAG app, the tag attaches to your key chain, bag or wallet and then searches for your smartphone (or vice versa), allowing you to quickly and easily find whichever of your precious personal belongings have been misplaced. At time of writing, backers have started receiving their devices.
When Pebble’s last iOS update essentially bricked the smart watch, leaving it capable of only (shock horror) telling the time, we knew that something needed to be done in a hurry.
Fortunately Pebble realized that too, since the company has rushed out a new update for its official iOS app — fixing the bug users had complained about which stopped the Pebble from connecting to an iPhone via Bluetooth.
Pebble Notes, a new iPhone app written by a student for students, puts important information on your wrist by sending your notes to your Pebble.
So many of us rely on the notes we’ve created and stored on our smartphones to get us through the day. We use them to make shopping lists for the supermarket, jot down passwords and codes we’ll need later on, and to help us remember other important information — such as answers for exams.
But if we leave our iPhone at home, they’re no good to us — unless you have Pebble Notes.
So, I finally broke down and bought a Pebble Smart Watch the other day. Just rolled into Best Buy and looked at both the FitBit Force fitness tracker and the Pebble. At just $20 more than the Force, I figured I’d get a fun geeky gadget that would do more than tell the time and count my steps.
Pebble Smart Watch by Pebble Category: Wearable Tech Works With: iOS, Android Price: $149.00
What I got for my $150 was a geeky gadget that tells me the time and passes notifications–usually–from my iPhone. And that’s about it, really.
LAS VEGAS — Not to be confused with “Blue Steel” from Zoolander, the Pebble smartwatch brand is branching out into the more premium, classic world of timepieces with Pebble Steel.
Announced today at CES, Pebble’s new watch has the same OS current owners know, but the physical materials have been upgraded from plastic to CNC-machined stainless steel. With a new developer SDK and its own app store on the near horizon, Pebble is leading the smartwatch race. But does it have what it takes to make the smartwatch cool?
The creators of the incredibly popular Pebble smartwatch, which came alive in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign last year, said yesterday that they will be bringing “something special” to this year’s International CES in Las Vegas.