These smart-ish watches paved the way for the Apple Watch

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It's bulky looking but Casio's SATELLITE NAVI had GPS to help wearers find their way around. Photo: Svet Satova
It's bulky-looking but Casio's SATELLITE NAVI had GPS to help wearers find their way around. Photo: Svet Satova

The Apple Watch and everything it will do is not a new idea. Watches for years have been able to store data, give us directions, offer a means to communicate at a distance and, yes, show us our heartbeat.

 It’s just that you couldn’t get all of those functions wearing just one watch. For each function, there was a separate wrist gadget.

So on the eve of the Apple Watch launch, consider the technologically advanced timepieces that paved the way to this momentous day. You might be even more impressed with the power of your new device.

In Cult of Mac’s sampling of smart-ish watches below, you will see the Casio name often. After entering the timepiece market in 1974, it pushed functionality in directions innovative for the times. (And should this incomplete list whet your appetite, check out an impressive history and collection of vintage LCD watches on the Digitally Curious blog.)

Two-way communication

The Dick Tracy two-way wrist radio from the 1960s couldn't tell time but was an early example of wireless communication. Photo: American Toy/YouTube
The Dick Tracy two-way wrist radio from the 1960s couldn’t tell time but was an early example of wireless communication. Photo: American Toy/YouTube
Walkie-talkie watches made in China. Photo: Carl Li/Ali Express
Walkie-talkie watches made in China. Photo: Carl Li/Ali Express
LG introduced face-to-face communication in a watch in 2008. Photo: LG
LG introduced face-to-face communication in a watch in 2008. Photo: LG

The American Toy Company brought the Dick Tracy wrist radio to life in the 1960s. You could say it was wireless and, like the Apple Watch, it needed a second piece of hardware to work. Kids could talk room-to-room or even house-to-house but had to wear a receiver with a long antenna for communication.

While searching for a more contemporary upgrade, I found a couple of Chinese walkie-talkie watches on Ali Express. They even tell time.

South Korea’s LG Electronics showed off a videophone watch at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. A year later, LG put a cellphone in a watch and sold it as a limited-edition item in a few countries.

Calculator and contact info

Casio's Data Bank watches could store names and telephone numbers. Photo: Takeso178
Casio’s Data Bank watches could store names and telephone numbers. Photo: Takeso178

In the 1980s, Casio introduced Data Bank watches that included a calculator and functionality that stored telephone numbers. Later models could store up to 50 names and phone numbers. Sadly, you could not call from the watch but the Little Black Book and Rolodex were suddenly put on the endangered species list.

Music

Casio put an MP3 player in this watch in 2000. Worked great as long as you did not have a huge music library. Photo: Casio
Casio put an MP3 player in this watch in 2000. Worked great as long as you did not have a huge music library. Photo: Casio

Casio embedded an MP3 player, albeit with a very short playlist, in its WMP-1V in 2000. It was Space Age-looking and chunky, with a protruding plug for your earbuds. The music player could only store 32MB of music, so when Apple introduced the iPod, this beauty was probably stuck in dresser drawers to be forgotten.

Games

Nintendo Donkey Kong watch, 1994. Photo: sandysplace25/eBay
Nintendo Donkey Kong watch, 1994. Photo: sandysplace25/eBay
Super Mario Race Gamewatch, 1992. Photo: anotherretrothing/eBay
Super Mario Race Gamewatch, 1992. Photo: anotherretrothing/eBay

Seiko and Casio made a number of watches that had slot machine or shooting games. My favorite on my search was made by Nintendo, a Donkey Kong watch from 1994 found on eBay for $50. Also found on eBay: a 1992 Super Mario Race Gamewatch, listed for $235.

Weather

Sensors in this Casio watch could indicate if the weather was getting better or worse. Photo: YouTube
Sensors in this Casio watch could indicate if the weather was getting better or worse. Photo: YouTube

In 1989, Casio offered weather forecasting in the BM-100WJ. The watch had an internal semiconductor barometric sensor that measured air pressure every three hours. On a bar graph display, the bar would rise with good weather and fall with bad. Casio went on to create several sensor watches with various functions.

Camera

The wrist camera took small pictures that could be transmitted to a computer or to other wrist camera wearers. Photo: Casio
The wrist camera took small pictures that could be transmitted to a computer or to other wrist camera wearers. Photo: Casio

In 2000, Casio boasted of having the first wrist camera that produced tiny, gray-scale pictures that could be transmitted to a computer or to other wrist camera wearers. It could store up to 100 images; later models produced color photos on a color screen.

GPS

GPS became a feature of advanced outdoor watches before the close of the 20th century. Photo: bitrade_corp/eBay
GPS became a feature of advanced outdoor watches before the close of the 20th century. Photo: bitrade_corp/eBay

Again, Casio. In 1999, the SATELLITE NAVI looked like a stylish wrist weapon but allowed users to determine direction and distance based on location and destination. Good for the outdoorsy types, especially rock climbers, mountain bikers and hikers.

Heartbeat

Watch manufacturers, like Casio, installed sensors to measure heart rate and blood pressure. Photo: YouTube
Watch manufacturers, like Casio, installed sensors to measure heart rate and blood pressure. Photo: YouTube

They had nothing on the Apple Watch’s animated display, but sports watches have included sensors that measure heart rate and blood pressure since the ’90s. Casio’s BP-100 came out in 1992.

Mickey Mouse

It's hard to beat the original Mickey Mouse watch from 1933. Photo: antiquedigger.com
It’s hard to beat the original Mickey Mouse watch from 1933. Photo: antiquedigger.com

We love the bouncing Mickey Mouse on the Apple Watch, but how can it compare to the original Steam Boat Willie watch? The beloved Disney figure first appeared on a watch by Ingersoll-Waterbury in 1933. It sold for $3 back then, but an original recently sold on eBay for just under $4,000. Ingersoll-Waterbury later became Timex, the company that famously said its watches, “Take a licking and keep on ticking.”