Samsung is preparing to launch its first smartwatch, and Apple is rumored to be developing its first smart watch.
But for all the hype, the smart watch is an old concept that harkens back to the era when pagers were a top-selling mass-market consumer electronics product.
In 1990, Motorola launched the world’s first wristwatch pager, which received numeric pages over traditional paging networks. That same year, startup AT&E began marketing the Seiko Receptor wristwatch pager, which received numeric pages and limited numeric content, such as sports scores, through FM-station side-carrier bands.
In 1997, Timex and Motorola teamed up to offer a wrist-watch word pager that received alphanumeric messages, e-mail, and customizable information updates.
Then in 2003, Microsoft launched its SPOT (Smart Personal Objects Technology) initiative, which the company hoped would deliver more useful — and user-friendly — services than its predecessors. Products were to be available in 2003 but were pushed into 2004.
SPOT pager watches, which received data via FM sideband frequencies, featured such innovations (for the time) as a glanceable displays that presented information, such as weather reports or stock charts, not as slowly scrolling text but as a mix of words and graphics. To further simplify use, a SPOT watch displayed top-level information on a particular information channel, then automatically cycled through more detailed information on the topic. Subscribers could also create a personal channel that cycled through a mix of information that could include weather and a stock portfolio updates.
Data capacity was improved by using FM sidebands to make room for bandwidth-hogging icons, give subscribers a greater level of information-service customization, and accommodate more potential users during peak-usage periods.
The SPOT watches were available briefly from such watch companies as Fossil, Suunto, and Tissot.
Also in 2003, Fossil partnered with Sony Ericsson to develop the technology to create a wristwatch that functioned as an accessory to a cellular phone. Sony Ericsson designed the software for a “caller ID watch” that connected to one’s cellular phone via Bluetooth.
In 2008, Titan Global Commerce, the marketer of Epoq-branded TVs, portable media players (PMPs), and PDA-phones, launched the first smart watchphone based on the Windows Mobile OS. The unlocked quad-band GSM/GPRS EGP-98B, retailing for a suggested $699, featured Windows Mobile 5 Standard OS and 1.4-inch OLED touchscreen display, which switched among displays of an analog clock, cellphone, and Windows Mobile desktop.
It featured 802.11b/g WiFi, 1.3-megapixel camera, embedded speaker and microphone, Bluetooth, included stereo Bluetooth headset, A/V playback, voice recorder, and WAP web browser. Wi-Fi could be used for AV streaming, web browsing, and synchronization with email servers.
Other Epoq watch phones featured touchscreen displays but not Windows Mobile OS.
Some of the first smart watches of the modern smartphone era (dating to the launch of the first iPhone in 2007) include models from Motorola, which launched the MotoActv in 2011. It was more of a fitness watch that offered cellphone notifications and control of smartphone-stored music. Sony launched its first smart watch in 2012, and 2013 saw the introduction of such models as the Pebble and The Martian Passport, which enabled Dick Tracy-like phone conversations though the watch via Bluetooth.
And of course, multiple companies today offer fitness watches, many with built-in GPS.
The concept of a smart device on the wrist hasn’t changed in decades, but the technology has, and improvements in technology might make the concept fly this time.