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With the impending release of the Apple Watch, the smartwatch market is set to take off in 2015. Here's how it got to this point.
35 years of smartwatches:
In just a few months, Apple will enter an entirely new product category with the highly anticipated Apple Watch. It remains to be seen how the masses will take to Apple's new device, but if recent history is any indication, Apple has a penchant for succeeding where others have failed. The world of smartwatches stretches all the way back to the 1970s. Here you will find some of the more notable smartwatch devices we've seen over the past 35 or so years.
1976: Pulsar Time Computer Calculator:
Widely considered the first smartwatch, the Pulsar Time Computer Calculator was an ornate piece of jewelry to say the least. Retailing for $2,100, the highest-end version of the device was made out of 18-karat gold and was released in 1976. The watch featured a red LED digital display and came with a built-in calculator which required a stylus to operate. A stainless steel version of the watch was released in 1977.
1980: Casio C-80:
It's funny to think back to a time when a watch capable of performing basic arithmetic was considered cutting-edge. Indeed, such was the case with early versions of calculator watches. Released in 1980, the Casio C-80 wasn't the first calculator watch, but it was the calculator watch that finally impacted the mainstream. The Casio C-80 was initially sold at $75, approximately $250 in today's dollars. As opposed to the Pulsar watch, a key selling point of the C-80 was that it could be operated without a stylus or a pen.
1984: Seiko RC-1000:
Somewhat of a novelty, the RC-1000 from Seiko interfaced with traditional desktop computers, including Apple II models, IBM machines, and even the Commodore 64. Naturally, the interfacing wasn't done wirelessly but via a connected cable through which users could transfer basic data like memos to the watch. Somewhat comically in hindsight, the device shipped with a floppy disk with the requisite interfacing software. As a point of interest, the Seiko RC-1000 came with just 2 kilobytes of RAM.
1995: Timex Datalink 50:
Released in 1994, development of the Timex Datalink was a joint effort involving Timex and Microsoft. The first iteration, the Datalink 50, was a step up in smartwatch functionality insofar as it was able to communicate with PCs wirelessly, thereby enabling users to transfer information such as schedules and memos to the watch. Sporting an LCD screen, the watch could also store up to 50 phone numbers.
1999: Samsung SPH-WP10:
Back in 1999, Samsung introduced a funky watchphone called the SPH-WP10. The product fused a digital watch with a wireless handset which, naturally, came with a CDMA antenna. The device may have been novel from a technology standpoint, but it was certainly not elegantly designed.
2001: IBM WatchPad:
In 2001, IBM and Citizen Watch joined forces to develop the IBM WatchPad. Measuring in at 1.5 ounces, the device ran Linux, sported 16MB of flash memory, and featured a 320x240-pixel display.
If you recall, PDAs were all the rage back in 2001. As a result, the WatchPad was positioned as a PDA that could also double as a device capable of controlling PCs via Bluetooth. Interestingly enough, prototypes of the device even featured fingerprint recognition technology and voice recognition The WatchPad was supposed to retail for $399, but sadly the device never shipped commercially. Though it made a number of appearances at various tradeshows, work on the device lingered on and was ultimately discontinued in 2002.
2003: Fossil Wrist PDA:
Though primarily known for standard timepieces, Fossil in 2003 released the Fossil Wrist PDA. The device retailed for $250 and featured a touchscreen virtual keyboard. The Wrist PDA also ran Palm OS, enabling it to interface with PCs and run a variety of applications. In a sign of the times, the watch clasp was even able to store a tiny stylus. Out of the box, the watch came with few different watch face options and sported battery life of about one to two days. Fossil would introduce varying iterations of the Wrist PDA over the course of a couple years, but the company discontinued the device in 2005 amid poor sales and less-than-stellar reviews.
2004: Microsoft Spot:
Somewhat forgotten is the fact that Microsoft once tried its hand at a smartwatch of its own. Back in 2004, Microsoft partnered with a number of traditional watch manufacturers such as Fossil and Swatch to deliver a touchscreen smartwatch dubbed Microsoft SPOT, which stood for "Smart Personal Object Technology." Functionality-wise, the watch initially required a subscription to Microsoft's proprietary MSN Direct Network (which worked via FM radio signals) for access to Windows Messenger and to receive personalized news items like headlines, sports scores, weather information, and stock prices. Eventually, MSN Direct Network access was provided on the house, but it couldn't save the device from extinction. The product was discontinued in 2008.
2007: Sony Ericsson MBW-150:
Announced right around the time the original iPhone debuted, Sony Ericcson's MBW-150 was a Bluetooth-enabled smartwatch that came in three styles and was able to relay various notifications (i.e. incoming calls and text messages) from a cellphone. The watch was also capable of controlling music on a paired phone. The MBW wasn’t Sony’s first effort at a smartwatch, as it was the successor to the Sony Ericcson MBW-100.
2009: Samsung S9110:
Though Samsung has earned a well-deserved reputation for copying, the company released a forward-thinking product in 2009 dubbed the Samsung S9110. A watchphone, the device featured a 1.76-inch touchscreen display and included a built-in MP3 player, voice recognition, and Bluetooth connectivity. Notably, the design aesthetic of the S9110 would eventually reemerge with the Galaxy Gear a few years later. Dick Tracy fans might have loved the device, but it never achieved mainstream success.
2010: iPod Nano 6th gen:
Though not marketed as a smartwatch, the sixth-generation iPod Nano came with a collection of watchfaces to choose from and might have been the first indication that Apple would one day enter the smartwatch market with full force. Although they weren’t supported officially by Apple, many third-party watchbands were released for the iPod Nano.
2012: Sony Smartwatch:
Now in its third iteration, the Sony Smartwatch burst onto the scene in 2012 as a wrist-worn touchscreen device positioned to serve as a second screen for Android smartphones, relaying such information as text messages and Twitter alerts while also providing control over music playback. The original Sony Smartwatch retailed for $149.99 and featured a 1.3-inch OLED 128x128 display. While the device was capable of running apps, early reviews claimed that doing so was a clunky and non-intuitive process. Sony has kept at it, and this past November released the Sony Smartwatch 3 with built-in GPS, NFC functionality, and a 320x320 display. It currently retails for $249.99, making it $100 less than the lowest-end Apple Watch.
2012: Pebble Watch:
Released in 2013, the Pebble Watch was funded via Kickstarter, raising an impressive $10.3 million. The allure of the Pebble is that it serves as a second screen of sorts to a paired iOS or Android device via Bluetooth, allowing users to quickly glance at text messages, emails, and incoming calls. It can also relay messages sent via Twitter and Facebook. Depending on the device, the Pebble can also control a smartphone camera. With a 144x168 black-and-white display, the Pebble is more about functionality than style. Sporting GPS, the device notably has access to the Pebble app store, where users can choose from over 1,000 apps. The original Pebble was followed up by the Pebble Steel.
2013: Samsung Galaxy Gear:
Now in its third iteration, the Samsung Galaxy Gear was released in 2013 to rather tepid reviews on account of a clunky design and a non-intuitive user interface. It was also lambasted for poor battery life and limited functionality. As opposed to other smartwatches of this generation, the Galaxy Gear was able to take photos and 15-second videos. Notably, the device's OS was changed in May 2014 from Android to Tizen, Samsung's homegrown OS. The most recent iteration of the device, the Galaxy Gear S, features a sleek curved display, but still received largely lukewarm reviews.
2014: Motorola Moto 360:
Released in September 2014, the Motorola Moto 360 featured a 1.56-inch, 320x290-pixel display that runs Android Wear and features a heart rate monitor and pedometer. The recipient of generally positive reviews, the device comes in three different styles and is impressively more water-resistant than the Apple Watch, which is to say it can be worn in the shower.
2014: LG G Watch R:
Running with Android Wear, LG jumped into the smartwatch market in October 2014 with the clumsily named G Watch R, a follow-up to the previously released G Watch. Featuring a 1.2 GHz processor, 4GB of internal storage, and a 320x320 display, the LG G Watch R not only can communicate with a paired Android smartphone, it can also process voice commands via Google Now. It also features some of the more basic features in modern smartwatches, such as a heartrate monitor, pulse monitor, and fitness tracker.
Retailing for $295, the device was largely praised for its stylish design (as far as smartwatches go), but faces an uphill battle in a competitive market.