Before Apple Watch: the timely history of the smartwatch

The long and winding road to the Apple Watch

Before Apple Watch  the timely history of the smartwatch

Smartwatches have been the next big thing since 1982. But 2015 is going to be different: when the Apple Watch drops early next year it's going to start a whole new wave of wearable tech.

And if that doesn't? Well, we've got smartwatches to look forward to from pretty much everyone else.

So what's different this time, and why haven't smartwatches really taken off before now? Let's look at some of the major milestones - and mistakes.

1982: Pulsar NL C01

Pulsar is a Seiko brand, and while the NL C01 was rather primitive by today's standards - it stored just 24 digits of information - it was quickly followed by more models such as 1984's UC-2000 and 1985's UC-3000. Both of these watches were ambitious: you could buy them with a dock that boasted a thermal printer and a memory cartridge slot.

UC 2000

Ambitious is a relative term, of course: mid-eighties smart watches were still rather gimmicky. What they didn't have was connectivity. Bluetooth was a decade away and cellular hardware was far too big and far too expensive: the enormous Motorola DynaTAC 8000X would set you back a whopping $3,995.

1984: Seiko RC-1000

Seiko's RC-1000 synchronised via a cable, and it was compatible with the various PCs of the time including Apple and Commodore C64 hardware.

RC 1000

Another model, the RC-4000 (dubbed the PC Datagraph) was released in 1985 and that shrugged off the plastic look of the RC-1000, favouring a stainless steal chassis.

RC 4000

It was known for its unusual three-line dot-matrix type and the fact that it housed 2KB of RAM.

RC 1000

1990: Seiko Receptor

The next big shift in smart watches happened at the turn of the decade, and it went beep - literally in the case of Swatch, whose The Beep watch followed in the footsteps of Seiko's 1990 Receptor, a watch that doubled as a pager.

Seiko Receptor

For the first time, smart watches were wirelessly connected to the wider world. All they needed now was all the other stuff. That stuff started to appear in late 90s, largely thanks to - you guessed it - Seiko.

1998: Seiko Ruputer

The 1998 Ruputer (later launched as the OnHand PC in the US) was more of a computer than a watch, boasting a 16-bit processor and 128KB of RAM. The screen wasn't up to much - it was a 102x64 mono LCD - and it wasn't a touchscreen, but you could write apps for the Ruputer in C.

Seiko Reputor

Samsung was thinking about smart watches too: its SPH-WP10 was the first watch phone, although while the device has spawned several imitators it was never an enormous success.

Linux Watchpad

IBM and Citizen tried a Linux smart watch, the WatchPad, but it was short lived. Fossil lasted longer, having found a way to cram the Palm OS into a much smaller screen (Palm OS was designed for PDAs, but Fossil's watches used smaller cellphone screens): it launched multiple models from 2002 to 2005.