The Surprising Long History of Smartwatches

Way back in 1979, Douglas Adams wrote that humans are “so amazingly primitive…they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

Way back in 1979, Douglas Adams wrote that humans are “so amazingly primitive…they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

On the eve of Apple releasing a smartwatch there is much talk of how innovative Apple is but I would venture to say that there were many “trailblazers” before them.

Here are the forerunners of Apple’s big watch and a short history of smartwatches.

2001 – 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”.

2002 – 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.

2006Microsoft Spot was Microsoft’s early attempt at a smartwatch.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates displaying his Fossil SPOT watch in 2003

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates displaying his Fossil SPOT watch in 2006.

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.”

Microsoft’s first watches were not 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.

2007 – Brought us the Sony Ericsson MBW-150. This watch could only be paired with a Sony Ericcson phone via Bluetooth and had a small single line OLED display. When an incoming call was received, the watch would vibrate and show either the name of the caller or their number. The watch could also notify the wearer about new text messages, and came in three models.

2009 – This is one of the slightly more unusual smart devices, and a first of it’s kind. A watch that was also a phone. This Samsung S9110 was at the time touted as the world’s thinnest “watchphone”, sporting a 1.76-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, email support and MP3 playback.

2012 – The Sony Smartwatch, effectively functioned as a second screen for your Android phone, which allowed you to read email, SMS and other notifications such as Twitter.

The Pebble remains my go-to smartwatch until another one comes along to beat it’s simplicity and elegance. Oh and it works on Android & Apple devices and even Windows Phones – kind of.

2012 – The Pebble watch is probably the best known of all current smartwatches and is my favorite. I use one today and do not plan on switching to the Apple watch. It began life as a Kickstarter project aiming to raise $100,000. It raised $10.3m instead.

The watch is compatible with iPhones and Android devices running OS 2.3 and up, but not Blackberry or Windows Phone 7. Alerts include incoming call, SMS, iMessage, calendar, Facebook messages and Twitter . A new model will be available this sping (2015).

2013 – Martian Watches offer the Passport Watch which features voice controls so that it can function as a speakerphone your smartphone or allow you to access services such as Siri.

2014 – Samsung has been making a major push when it comes to smartwatches, with recent models including the Galaxy Gear, Gear Fit, Gear 2,Gear 2 Neo and the Gear S . The Gear S is notably in that it will allow you to make calls rather than just act as a second screen for a smartphone. However this is rumor that Samsung will be giving up on smartwatches shortly.

2015 – Microsoft’s first entry since 2006’s Microsoft Spot was in the fitness wearable market, the Microsoft Band.  This one offers an array of sensors and a platform-agnostic nature along with the typical email, messaging and social media features we have come to expect from a smartwatch.

Now let’s travel back even further in time to 1976. 

Back in 1976 my favorite Science Fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke predicted the use of mobile devices, tablets & smartwatches in a very real and very specific way. The moral of this story is that many things we enjoy today were considered and predicted long ago.

Clark predicts and describes, again in great detail the “wristwatch telephone” at the 4:34 mark. However as opposed to skipping ahead I suggest you watch the whole video to see all the amazing predictions he made in this interview.

You can read my other articles about Arthur C. Clarke here.

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An Elevator To The Stars

It’s Friday so it must be “Science & Space Friday” here at the West Chester Technology Blog.

Massive elevators, connecting the surface of the Earth with outer space, have been a staple of “hard science fiction” since 1895 when Konstantin Tsiolkovskypublished a proposal for a free-standing tower reaching from the surface of Earth to the height of geostationary orbit. While such structures might be hard for us to imagine, they might someday actually provide us with a transport into space more cheaply and efficiently than any rocket. This has been the center of many of great science fiction novels I have enjoyed over the years. Two of my favorite novels featuring “space elevators” in our future include Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Fountains of Paradise and Joe Haldeman’s “Marsbound”.

Why we'll probably never build a space elevator

A new study into the possibilities of space elevators has recently concluded, giving us a glimpse of what these impossible-seeming structures might actually look like someday.

Conducted by a diverse field of experts working for the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), the study has come to two encouraging conclusions.

First, space elevators seem possible. Or at least, there’s no scientific evidence that the IAA researchers found that rules them out. Second, if we band together as an international community, we could actually fund one of these almost unimaginable elevators.

Here you can see a Rotating Carbon Nanotube

Why are space elevators so exciting to so many people? It is because unlike rockets, a space elevator would travel at speeds similar to a high speed train. A trip from the surface to Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) would take as long as a week. That may not sound very fast at all, but in terms of cost, it is more efficient and safer than a rocket. A space elevator would run on solar power generated by a solar array on the orbital docking platform. Along with carbon nanotube tech (for the cable), advances in solar panels are the chief technology that needs to advance in order for a space elevator to become a reality.

Maybe, in another ten years, reports study leader Peter Swan, another such study will find that technology has advanced enough to start construction on humanity’s first elevator to space. Then again, it might take us until 2050, or even 2100. Either way, Swan and his team seem confident that, if we want one, humanity can someday have its own elevator to the stars.

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Asimov’s Amazing 50 Year Prediction

One of my favorite science fiction authors is the late great Isaac Asimov. Asimov (1920-1992) was one of the most prolific science fiction authors of the 20th century and many of his novels are still considered “must reads” for anyone wanting to explore science fiction literature.

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Along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke – Asimov is widely considered one of the big three “masters of science fiction”. Asimov not only wrote countless major science fiction masterpieces but science books as well explaining science concepts to mass readers.

In addition was Isaac Asimov a modern day Nostradamus? Many in the technology world are asking this today because in 1964, Asimov wrote a piece for the New York Times titled “Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014”. The article was written as the 1964 World Fair was opening. In it, he tried to predict what the world would look like 50 years from the time at which he was writing. And while he wasn’t right about everything he predicted he was right about much.

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Now Let’s take a look at just some of Asimov’s eerily accurate predictions. Each of these (bold) are word for word from Asimov’s article for the New York Times written in 1964 predicting the state of technology in 2014.

1. “Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books.”

Facetime, Sykpe, Webinars, ebooks, and social media photos all come to mind here. He nailed this one.

2. “Not all the world’s population will enjoy the gadgety world of the future to the full. A larger portion than today (1964) will be deprived.”

Right again. Technology development has the first and third worlds more distant from one another than ever.

3. “Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs.”

It’s no secret what happened to all of those repetitive factory jobs humans used to hold down. They are for the most part gone.

4. “Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.”

If by “very good” Asimov means human-like, then he’s right. Certainly robots exist, but they don’t yet possess the human-mimicking body form and artificial intelligence many assumed they would by now.

5. “Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders. Schools will have to be oriented in this direction.”

Tech maintenance & services is a huge job sector today, and it is only projected to grow moving forward. That is, of course, until we have machines that repair other machines.

6. “Wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set; but transparent cubes  will be making their appearance in which three-dimensional viewing will be  possible.”

 As Asimov predicted, most homes have thin televisions  mounted on the wall. Advances in 3-D viewing devices and technology continues to  improve. 3-D imaging technology is utilized frequently in  today’s computer programs and 3-D movies have become box-offices hits.

7. “The world population will be 6,500,000,000 and the population of the  United States will be 350,000,000.”

World population grew at a  faster pace than even Asimov predicted with 7,137,577,750 on Earth on Jan. 1,  2014. He was close on U.S. population growth, which stood at 316,148,990 on July  4, 2013, according to the U.S. census.

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As you can see Asimov was very close on many of his 50 years into the future predictions. Today with technology advances moving so quickly it is often difficult to predict 6 months ahead. Another fact from these amazing predictions from a science fiction author is that good science fiction really can transport the reader into worlds and time periods yet to arrive with amazing accuracy.

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