Smartwatches through the years: The ‘new’ idea that isn’t so new

The hype surrounding the Apple Watch has hit a fever pitch. It began shipping today, it’s understandable why so many view the Apple Watch as a game changer for smartwatches. Apple’s newest device is just the latest in what many view as a recent trend of wearable devices. However, smartwatches aren’t necessarily a newfangled idea. For decades, companies and developers have been working to come up with an all-purpose device perfect for wearing on your wrist. As you’ll see, smartwatches aren’t exactly a new concept.


The idea behind the smartwatch can be traced back many decades, all the way to the 1930s. But the concept didn’t come from the high-tech companies of the era; it came from pop culture. More specifically, in the comic strip Dick Tracy, the famous detective was seen using an advanced watch capable of communicating like a phone, along with other special abilities. Over time, science fiction would latch onto the concept, most noticeably in famous franchises like Star Trek.

1975: Pulsar Time Computer Calculator

The Pulsar Time Computer Calculator is considered by many to be the first calculator watch. It essentially combined the elements of both a watch and a calculator, while encasing it in something only affordable for the very wealthy. We’re talking a device made of 18-karat gold. As ahead of its time as the device was, it still cost more than $2,000. The price point and the tiny buttons would keep it from gaining mainstream success.

1982: Pulsar NL C01

The Pulsar NL C01 was the first in what became a series of smartwatch-type devices from Seiko. The feature that set them apart was a dock allowing you to connect the device to a printer and memory cartridge. While still an innovative concept, like the Pulsar Time Computer Calculator, the NL C01 couldn’t find an accepting audience during the 80s.

1994: Timex Datalink

By the time the 90s rolled around, other companies were willing to take a stab at the smartwatch. Those companies in this case were Timex and Microsoft. Their Datalink device allowed users to sync phone numbers and calendar items while getting reminders about things they needed to do. But there was a downside: in order to wirelessly sync the data, the watch had to be held up to a monitor while it read code in the form of light flashes.

1998: Seiko Ruputer

Seiko wasn’t done with its smartwatch attempts. In 1998, the company released the Ruputer, which was essentially a tiny computer for your wrist. It featured a 16-bit processor, and programmers could actually write apps for it.

2002: Fossil Wrist PDA

In the era of PDAs, Fossil sought to make a device that placed all the functions of a PDA into a watch. The result was the Fossil Wrist PDA, which allowed users to store thousands of contacts and to-do items along with hundreds of appointments and memos. Unfortunately, the device was not well-received by critics, causing it to flounder.

2009: Samsung S9110 Watch Phone

Samsung’s attempt at a smartwatch device was one of the first to incorporate many of the elements we now associate with smartwatches. The Samsung S9110 Watch Phone had Bluetooth, a touchscreen, music playback and cloud computing support. The device also worked as a phone, but ended up not replacing smartphones.

2012: Pebble

The result of an amazingly successful crowdfunding effort, Pebble is credited with the first real surge in popular support for smartwatches. The device is compatible with iPhones and Android devices and doesn’t require a lot of battery power to run. Despite the crowdfunded support, reviews were mixed, which kept Pebble devices from truly catching on.

2013: Samsung Galaxy Gear

Samsung could sense a market for smartwatches. In 2013, it released various versions of its new smartwatch, basically providing something for different audiences. In addition, the Galaxy Gear series also got into the wearable fitness device market with the Gear Fit. Despite this, Galaxy Gear has seen lukewarm sales.

2014: Android Wear

Google also got into the smartwatch game in 2014, but not with a new device. Instead, the company developed Android Wear, a variation of the Android operating system designed specifically for smartwatches and other wearables. The goal is to have Android Wear featured on smartwatches made by all sorts of companies, and so far, it has seen some success. Android Wear has caused a spark in our creativity for wearable technology, and even ways to breach the data held within them. It’s clear that as the long as we find more ways to wear computers, the necessity of holding to cyber security best practices holds truer than ever.

Which brings us to 2015 and the arrival of the Apple Watch. Will Apple Watch prove to be a revolutionary device that transforms smartwatches forever? Only time will tell. While smartwatches are still trying to catch on with mainstream audiences, it’s probably only a matter of time before they’re just as popular as smartphones.

Robert Cordray
Robert Cordray
Robert Cordray is a former business consultant and entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience and a wide variety of knowledge in multiple areas of the industry. He currently resides in the Southern California area and spends his time helping consumers and business owners alike try to be successful. When he’s not reading or writing, he’s most likely with his beautiful wife and three children.

Would you recommend this article?


Thanks for taking the time to let us know what you think of this article!
We'd love to hear your opinion about this or any other story you read in our publication.

Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

Featured Download

Latest Blogs

ITB in your inbox

Our experienced team of journalists and bloggers bring you engaging in-depth interviews, videos and content targeted to IT professionals and line-of-business executives.