The Evolution of the Smartwatch

3 minute read

Tech junkies have fantasized about a wrist-phone ever since comic book detective Dick Tracy first donned a two-way radio watch (described above) in the 1940s. In 1953, TIME reported that the U.S. Army Signal Corps had developed a wearable radio with a 40-mile range — but only in the past decade or so has the concept of a “smartwatch” really taken hold, with popular models from companies like Samsung, Motorola, and LG, mostly running versions of Android OS.

One company is notably absent from that list: Apple. Apple is rumored to be unveiling its take on a smartwatch — maybe called the “iWatch” or “iBand” — on Tuesday, in a move that would shake up an already exciting product category.

But modern smartwatches aren’t brand new inventions — many have tried to perfect the “smartwatch” over the years. Let’s take a look back on how the devices have evolved, as told by TIME:

1. Seiko Message Watch, 1994

Tired of people whose watches beep periodically to remind them an hour has passed? This Seiko timepiece beeps for a better reason: to signal an incoming phone message. With the press of a button, the caller’s number appears on the watch face.

2. Fossil’s Palm Pilot Watch, 2002

Meanwhile, Fossil wants to make sure you never leave home without your Palm Pilot. The watchmaker has shrunk a 2-MB Palm to wristwatch size. It costs $199 with a plastic wristband and $299 with a flashy metallic one.

3. Microsoft’s Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT), 2003

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) never looked so sure of itself, even if it was the only place in America trying to put a glitzy, Tomorrowland sheen on 2003. Some of the gadgets may never fly (Bill Gates’ unveiling of a “smart” watch that delivers traffic and weather reports met with a frosty audience reception).

4. BMW MP3 Watch, 2004

With its elegant mingling of analog hands and digital functions, BMW’s new MP3 watch (available at dealerships for $275) looks as if it came straight out of a James Bond film. It’s packed with 256 megabytes of internal flash memory, which means you can store more than four hours of high-fidelity music, record voice memos and use it as a mini hard drive for transporting computer files as well.

5. Suunto X9 “Wristop Computer,” 2004

Suunto’s T9 Wristop Computer, available for $700 at crams a GPS tracker, barometer, altimeter, compass and more into one wearable package.

6. Samsung and Sony Smartwatches, 2013

But although these watches are evolving rapidly, they’re not all that smart yet. They’re satellites for smartphones as opposed to stand-alone devices, using Bluetooth connections to let you place calls, get alerts and more without removing the handset from your pocket. And they’re bulky, with user interfaces that still need refinement. Your move, Apple.

Your move indeed, Apple. Let’s see what you’ve got up your sleeve — or on your wrist.

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