Smart Watches: A History of Time

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By following the sun’s shadow across the ground, Egyptians were the first people to “tell time”. As we began to migrate at a faster rate, time needed to travel with us; the portable clock was born–evolving from handheld watches like Germany’s 16th century clock-watch, to England’s 17th century pocket watch. It all changed in 18th century France though, when our modern-day wristwatch came to be. Until the 1900’s, wristwatches were mainly seen as a fashion statement, yet quickly, companies updated them to have function beyond telling time. This rapid development created a new genre of watches coined “smart watches”.

In 1927, the Plus Four Wristlet Route Indicator was created. Although “smart watch” is defined as “a mobile device with a touchscreen display, designed to be worn on the wrist,” the Plus Four was “smart” in a unique way. Before there was GPS technology, paper maps were the only way to figure out how to get from point A to point B. The Plus Four recognized the hassle of unfolding a large paper map, and shrunk it down to fit on one’s wrist. The watch itself came with twenty different tiny maps that looked like scrolls. The wearer would place one scroll in the watch, use the knobs on the side of the watch to scroll up or down to their current location, and then follow their movements by scrolling. The primitive GPS is laughable by today’s standards, but it’s purpose of assistive watch technology paved the way for modern features.

The year 1972 brought the first electric watch to the market, a milestone in smart watch technology. The Hamilton Pulsar P1 was the first all-electric watch. It even included an LED display, at the touch of a button of course. However, the watch came with a hefty price tag of $2,100 because of its 18-carat gold exterior. The Pulsar didn’t have a movable map or any other special features, but for the time, the display was impressive enough.

In 1982, a Japanese company, Seiko, released the Seiko TV watch. This watch could connect to a TV’s receiver box and the wearer could watch TV on their watch. It did require a bulky adapter cable, and the watch’s display was grainy and grey. So although the feature was incredibly inconvenient, it was the first watch to feature viewable media.

By 1983, Seiko returned with the Data-2000. It was the first watch ...

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