Smartwatches are all the rage in 2020 and most of the major manufacturers are now heavily promoting their wearable technology as the ‘next big thing.’ However, smartwatches have been around a lot longer than you might think, albeit in a somewhat different form to what we see today.

When Apple first announced its Apple Watch back in 2014, many believed we were entering a new era for tech. Of course, when an industry titan like Apple launches a new product, the world sits up and takes notice. The Apple Watch has done a lot for popularizing the tech, but smartwatches have been with us in some shape or form since the late 90s. The reason they remained obscure is the technology simply failed to take off.

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Early Models – Clunky and Lacking Purpose

Seiko was one of the first companies to try and kickstart the smartwatch revolution. Back in 1997, the company launched its Wristomo range — a kind of personal wrist computer with fundamental messaging capabilities. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the product failed to catch the imagination, but the seed was sown for other manufacturers to dip their toes into smartwatch development in the coming years.

Seiko’s build-up to the Wristomo had been coming for many years. The company’s dominance in watch production was unrivaled, but Seiko wanted more and increasingly looked at incorporating other technologies into its core line of watches.

For example, in 1982, the company launched Seiko TV Watch — the world’s smallest TV at the time. The product went on to attract massive media attention after being worn by Roger Moore’s James Bond in the film Octopussy. In the same year, it would launch the world’s first handheld computer leading the company to begin integrating increasing levels of tech into its watches.

As you might expect, Seiko’s competitors weren’t slow in playing catch up. In 1984, Timex launched its own range of computer watches — the Data Link — produced in conjunction with Microsoft, which started the early days of smartwatch development.

The Formative Years

In January 2003, Bill Gates excitedly presented a prototype ‘smart watch’ which featured basic info including news, stock quotes, weather and text messages over a proprietary FM radio frequency developed by Microsoft. The company partnered with four established watch manufacturers: Citizen, Fossil, Suunto and Swatch. Despite a massive media frenzy, the watches bombed and the Microsoft disbanded the division in 2005. For now, at least, the smartwatch was dead.

How Kickstarter Kickstarted Smartwatch Development

The current round of smartwatch innovation really started back in 2012 when the Pebble smartwatch concept (founded by Eric Migicovsky) achieved funding on Kickstarter. Migicovsky’s initial hopes were to achieve $100,000 investment.

Instead, the campaign received an excess of $10 million accompanied by pre-orders for 85,000 watches. Migicovsky applied for a second round of funding and this time reached over $20 million with a further 100,000 watch orders. The modern smartwatch was born.

Big Success Brings Big Competition

Such attention rarely goes unnoticed in the tech industry, and the big companies were quick to jump on the opportunities presented by Migicovsky’s concepts. By 2013, industry giants Qualcomm, Samsung and Sony had entered the smartwatch market. Apple followed suit with an announcement in late 2014 that it, too, was developing a smartwatch, scheduled for launch in 2015.

Pebble would become Apple’s first casualty. The company simply couldn’t compete with the tech giant and Migicovsky went on to sell the company to rival firm Fitbit.

The Current Market

These days, the smartphone market is booming with a vast range of smartwatches for men and women available from the more prominent tech manufacturers. The market is so big these days that it’s even attracted the attention of design firms like Armani and Michael Kors, who are keen to add a little design flair into the mix.

As our lives integrate more with technology, the popularity of wearable devices will continue to grow. It’s fair to say we’re only just starting to see the potential of smart wearables and watches.

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