Before Android Wear and Apple iWatch: How watches got their smarts over the years

2014 is said to be the year of the smartwatch, with the some of the biggest tech giants betting big on their wearable devices. We've seen a flood smartwatch announcements lately, one of most notable being the Sony Smartwatch 3, Asus Zenwatch and the Samsung Gear S launched during the IFA trade show this year. Of course, how can we forget the Apple iWatch, which is all set to make a debut on Sep 9.


The web is afloat with rumours of the iWatch sporting designer straps, health-based functions and an NFC-powered payment system. Android Wear is not too far behind with devices such as the Moto 360 and LG G Watch R featuring P-OLED displays, powered by snappy processors and powerful batteries.


Getting to the smartwatch age could never have been possible in one big giant leap. The humble wristwatch has evolved through the years, and we've witnessed some great hallmarks emerge with the advancements in  technology. Here's a rundown of some of the key wristwatches of our time.


1. The first electric watch: Hamilton Electric 500 (1957)


Before Android Wear and Apple iWatch: How watches got their smarts over the years

Source: Sheldon Winsor

The world's first electric watch was made by Hamilton Watch Co, which ran on battery instead of a rotating mainspring. However, it used the traditional balance-wheel mechanism as with most traditional watches of that time, so it was no more accurate than the watches it claimed to make outdated. It featured an asymmetrical design and was also worn by rock-and-roll legend Elvis Presley.


2. The first tuning-fork watch: Bulova Accutron (1960)


Source: OldFathertime

Source: OldFathertime


In 1960, Bulova brought the Accutron watch, which ran on a 360Hz tuning fork instead of a balance wheel. This provided greater accuracy and improved  the watch's battery life. In fact, the Accutron became the first wristwatch precise enough to qualify for the US railroad certification.


3. First quartz watch: Seiko 35SQ Astron (1969)


Source: Ablogtowatch

Source: Ablogtowatch


The Seiko 35SQ Astron was the first commercially-available quartz wristwatch. It was easier and cheaper to manufacture, so Seiko was able to sell more watches that were also more accurate.


4. First calculator watch: Pulsar (1972)





The first calculator watch, invented by Hamilton Watch Co., was called Pulsar. Little did they know that the watch would become a geek style statement through the 70's and 80's. It was a rather chunky piece of steel that had a large keypad and a red LED display. The number-pad included functions to add, divide, multiply and subtract. Subsequent models and some from different manufacturers came with more buttons for percentage, root and trigonometric functions such as sin and cos. Citizen, in fact, took it to a different level by creating this 41-keyed watch called Citizen 9140A.


Citizen calculator watch

Source: Pocket Calculator Show


5.  First G-shock watch: G-Shock DW5000 (1983)



The G-Shock was designed to fight against the elements. The team working on the G-Shock range had an aim of inventing a 'triple 10' watch: one that could survive a 10-meter free fall, that was water resistant to 10 bars, and whose battery would last for 10 years. The watch had a rubber case that could protect it against water and drops, while keeping it lightweight. Apart from the rugged features, the DW5000 had a 60-hour stopwatch, an alarm function and buckets of cool.


6. First smartwatch: Linux watch (1998)


Linux watch


The first signs of a modern smartwatch were seen in the Linux smartwatch. It featured a VGA screen with a resolution of 640x480 pixels and, for the first time, allowed video playback. The screen was touch-sensitive and it had electronically-displayed hands. The digits were also used to perform other functions such as "0” to stop recording, “4” to kill all processes and halt the processor, “7” to wake up the system from sleep mode, etc. It also had a camera facing ahead rather than up at the user that could record video at 30 frames per second, which was considered quite fast back then.


Thereafter, the smartwatch has gone through a series of improvements...


7. IBM WatchPad (2001)



Source: bia2tafrih


The IBM WatchPad came with calendar-scheduling software, a pager-like application for sending and receiving short messages, and a Bluetooth chip for wireless communication with notebooks, handheld computers and cell phones.The WatchPad ran Linux too and featured a 1.5-inch 320 × 240 QVGA display.


8. Microsoft SPOT (2004)


Microsoft SPOT

Source: bia2tafrih


For those who believe that Microsoft got complacent with its successful Windows operating system, this might come as a strange revelation. Microsoft had a smartwatch a long before arch rivals Google or Apple did. Back in 2004, Microsoft partnered with Fossil to make the SPOT which included Outlook email synchronization and came with wireless charging pads. It had a monochrome display, FM radio and you could read messages sent through MSN Messenger. However, there was no way to reply to those messages.


9.  Sony Smartwatch (2012)

Sony smartwatch


Sony was the first to give the 'smartwatch' label to its Android-powered watch. It was originally named Sony Ericsson LiveView when it was first showcased during the CES for that year. It was rebranded by the time it hit the market following the break in the Sony-Ericsson partnership. The Sony Smartwatch had all the basic features you'll see on an Android wearable. It used Bluetooth 3.0 to connect to an Android handset, however, the device was underpowered and suffered from several usability niggles. You can still buy this smartwatch from some retailers.


Then followed a series of smartwatches that floated in the market with new and improved features. Pebble, which features a monochrome display and supports both Android and iOS devices, gained popularity for its simple interface and fitness and remote-controlling features.


10.  Android Wear smartwatches (2014)


Google LG G Watch announced recently

Google LG G Watch


Google announced its Android Wear software for computerised wristwatches with an effort to simplify how people use smartwatches. It supports voice interactions, users can scroll through a short menu of functions and use the watch as a speaker phone for calls. Watches running Android Wear can also keep track of your daily steps, heart rate and other health data. The LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live and Moto 360 run Android Wear and are a considerable improvement from watches we've seen in the past.


Now it's up to Apple to take smartwatches to the next level with the iWatch. Whether it's as ground-breaking as the first iPhone or iPod remains to be seen. In any case, we will find out tomorrow when Apple's event goes live in California.

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