From Arm Clock to Apple Watch

“Calling Dick Tracy. Calling Dick Tracy. We have a report that Apple has announced a new watch that will outdo yours. And, it’s selling for only $17,000.”

 

Steve Jobs was a visionary. With the introduction of the new Apple Watch, I’ve determined I’m not. After 35 years in the computer industry, I think I’m turning into a Luddite.

 

Apple, with their announcement of the Apple Watch, has finally decided to wade into the smart watch battle. Their Watch, as it’s uniquely named, is about to hit the market causing all the Apple disciples to drop to their knees and once again give thanks to Steve Jobs, The Creator.

 

When Apple made the announcement this week, it was just the latest shot in the battle for your wrist space that has been raging for hundreds of years. One of the earliest notations on record about wrist watches dates back to 1571 when Queen Elizabeth I was presented with an “arm clock” by Robert Dudley. Pocket watches were just becoming the latest bling in gentlemen’s accessories around that time, so the arm clock became a ladies accessory. No decent gentleman would be caught without his pocket watch.

 

Of course, it was the military that realized the importance of having readily available timepieces. The English learned that lesson by how the wristwatch helped coordinate their movements during the Burma War in 1885 and the Boer War in 1890’s. But it wasn’t until World War I that the wristwatch was used on a wide scale, everyday basis. By then, one of the major suppliers to the British military was a company called Wilsdorf and Davis. The company was originally established to provide a high quality, inexpensive line of watches for the general masses. The name of that company was eventually changed to Rolex.

 

Arm clocks were not just bling for refined ladies anymore.

 

By the end of World War I, almost every enlisted man in the British military was wearing a wrist watch and, as they were discharged from the military, they continued to wear the timepiece on their wrist. In 1917, the Horological Journal, a magazine for clockmakers, wrote “the wristlet watch was little used by the sterner sex before the war, but now is seen on the wrist of nearly every man in uniform and of many men in civilian attire.” By 1930, the wrist watch outnumbered the pocket watch by 50 to 1.

 

In 1970, the first digital electronic watch, the Pulsar, was introduced by the Hamilton Watch Company. John Bergey, chief engineer on the project, admitted he was inspired by a clock in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey when he first envisioned the watch. The Pulsar, using red LED technology, was finished in 18 karat gold and sold for $2100 in 1972. To me, the LED watch and the follow on LCD screens were not progress. The LEDs only lit up when a button was pressed on the side. Eventually, the LCD screens came along which allowed you to see the numerals during the day, but you still had to push a button to see the time in the dark. With both technologies, it suddenly took two hands instead of one to tell what time it was.

 

LED watches became totally “bling unworthy” when Texas Instrument brought out a line of LED watches that sold for $10. And if it ain’t pricy, it ain’t real bling!

 

One of the next big advances in electronic arm clocks was in 1984, a portentous year if there ever was one, and it was the RC-1000, introduced by Seiko. Dubbed the “Nerd Watch,” it interfaced with a number of popular computers from that era including the Commodore 64, the original IBM PC, the Tandy Color Computer, the TRS-80 series, and the NEC8201. And, of course, the Apple II, II+, and the IIe. The watch came with a keyboard interface and a 5 ¼” floppy disc formatted specifically for the computer you were using. If you owned more than one type of computer, you would have to buy multiple software discs. It also came with an RS-232 cable to plug into your computer. The watch had a 2k RAM and was a bit limited in applications – basic math, memo capability, calendar functions, and world time/alarms were its primary functions. By comparison, the top end high electronic watches today support up to 512MB RAM and 32GB storage capacity.

 

After falling out of vogue for a decade or two, the electronic watch has made a comeback in the last few years. With advancements in technologies such as blue tooth, WIFI availability, miniaturization, and broad based mobile applications development, the electronic watches on the market today can do much more than before. They may become the newest “can’t survive as a human without having one” required gadget. The cell phone has replaced the traditional telephone, the camera, the memo pad, the US Postal System, and your personal jukebox all in one hand held device. The new electronic arm clocks are on the path to performing all those functions on a device the size of a wristwatch.

 

With very limited functionality, Smart Watches can be bought for as little as $50. Most mainstream models seem to run in the $200 to $400 range. Apple’s Watch series, however, starts at $349 and runs as high as $17,000 for the model with the gold case. The gold case is the only difference between the entry-level model and the highest priced version, which contains about $500 worth of gold. Which works out to about $16,000 of bling worthiness!

 

Apple has always been good at separating Apple fans and their money.

 

As for me, I’m waiting for the seismic activity app to be introduced because it’s going to be earthquake hell before I spend $17,000 on an electronic watch.

 

Am I a Luddite? Perhaps. But if I am, at least I’m a thrifty one.

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