What ever Happened to the Wrist Watch Computer?
Wrist watch computers should have become a reality a long, long time ago.
Dick Tracy had his wrist phone, James Bond has many fantasy watch gadgets. Although there are many sophisticated watches with computer like functions, there are no fully fledged wrist watch computers that are practical and functional for everyday use.
Several wrist watch computer have been developed but they have all failed commercially. The existing ones are far too bulky and impractical. Technology has improved, and it is now time to develop a modern version. There have been several attempts at something similar including the wrist watch 'nano', but nothing really practical has emerged.
When you think about it, the wrist is the perfect place for a smartphone type computer device - offering hands free operation - you can easy lift it towards your face to speak and hear messages. No more losing your smartphone when you put it down somewhere or leaving it in a pocket of clothes in your washing!
This article examines many of the issues that have so stopped the wrist watch computer becoming a reality. It also shows that the wrist watch computer is just around the corner due to recently advances in technology.
History of the Wrist Watch Computer
There have been several previous attempts to develop and market wrist watch computer. As early as 1998 Seiko developed a wrist computer known as the 'Ruputer', which was a computer in a quite large wrist watch but it was not a success.
In 2001 IBM showcased two wristwatch computer prototypes running Linux, but there has been no news about these devices recently.
In 2002 the famous Fossil Wrist PDA was launched, which used the popular Palm OS. It went on sale in 2005 but was not very successful.
The Timex Datalink is a good example of a practical wearable computer developed by advancing the capability of the wrist watch.
A wearable computer named 'Poma' was launched by Hitachi in 2002.
One of the most successful of the modern designs is the ZYPAD, produced by Eurotech. It is a fully functional wrist computer with a touch screen, Wi-Fi interface, GPS, and Bluetooth connectivity, which can run a number of custom applications. But it is bulky and not really suitable for everyday use.
Panasonic developed their Toughbook line for over 10 years. In 2002, Panasonic developed their wearable brick computer that was coupled with a handheld or arm-worn touchscreen. The wearable brick was withdrawn in 2005.
One extreme example of an impractical watch is the Symbol Technologies WT4000 wearable computer (shown below).
However the recent development of the smartphone, nano and other devices and with advanced touchscreens, creates the opportunity to have another go at developing a watch computer that is small, sophisticated and sleek-looking - not huge, clunky and ugly like the existing ones.
Wrist Watch Computer - Size Issues
Most people think of computers as being too large for wearing on your wrist. However computer sizes keep getting smaller and smaller and this would not seem to be a major problem.
There are several fully functional computers that you could easily wear on a wrist. The "Cotton Candy" USB, shown in the image below is actually a complete PC. The device can be plugged into any screen or device to access stick's operating system, cloud services and apps.
The stick weighs just 21 grams and uses Google's Android operating system. It is expected to retail for about $US200. Just add a flip-up screen with a pen and it would be easy to see this as a wrist computer. The stick decodes H.264, MPEG-4, and other video formats and can even display HD graphics on almost any HDMI equipped screen. The device can be controlled via keyboards, mice, smartphones and any other USB peripherals.
It is not hard to see this being adapted as a wrist watch computer.
iPod nano Watch
Ever since it was reported that an Apple board member joked that he wanted to wear the new nano as a watch, all sorts of innovative versions have been produced , not by Apple but by DIY enthusiasts. The nano's 1.5-inch 240 x 240 multi-touch display can provide and excellent watch. How do you do it?
- Putting the nano on a band - there are many options, some specifically designed for the nano using the standard clip. Just make sure you tighten the band so it doesn't slide around. The nano's clip is quite strong enough to secure the nano to the band for normal use.
- Setting up the clock face - Go to Settings / Date and Time and switch on the "Time On Wake" option which shows the clockface when you operate the wake button instead of the standard home screen. You can choose white and black clock backgrounds. Sure it is a bit limited as the screen stays dark when the nano is asleep. You have to use your other hand to reach over click the wake button to see the time.
- You can always listen to music by plugging in some headphones, but the cables can be messy - bluetooth needed Apple!
- Improvements - Apple should provide multiple clock theme options - classy analog options and digital displays, and a calculator face options -com on Apple - more innovation needed! The nano should be able to connect to the iPhone using Bluetooth and act as a remote secondary display so you can quickly scan your text messages, see who's calling and display email subject lines? Apple - you are already behind this has been done for Android devices.
The Sony Ericsson LiveView has show how Bluetooth can be used to communicate with a wrist device. This tiny remote control display can be used to alert you to smartphone messages without having to access the phone. It has a 1.3-inch OLED screen.
You can install an app on your Android phone to display messages, control your music, locate your phone and alert you to all your social network updates and messages from your friends. It even shows the time!
Display and Interface Limitations
The major problem with the wrist watch computer is the limited size of the display and how you can connect with it and send commands.
The key to this is Bluetooth.
The display could be in installed in sunglasses (see below). There are all sorts of options for keyboard devices that could be a separate one hand keyboard in your other hand.
Tiny video cameras can be uses to monitor eye movements for typing and entering commands!
Come on Apple !
Take the nano and iPhone one step further and develop a practical wrist watch computer - not one of those huge ugly devices that exist now, but something like the iPhone down-sized into the nano with bluetooth.
Any ideas? The world needs the wrist watch computer!
For more information on wearable computer and new whacky clothes that do stuff see:
© 2011 Dr. John Anderson