The Curious Story of The “Grandfather” of Smartwatches

The story is full of devices that were ahead of their time. I do not mean literary or cinematic machines like the Kubricktablet or Verne’s multiple predictions, but to other devices that went on sale decades ago and now we realize that they are very similar to some of the latest gadgets on the market.

One such invention was Seiko’s TV Watch. In its day this rarity was considered and recognized as the smallest television in the world, and even made appearances in some movies, but today nobody can escape its amazing resemblance to the current intelligent clocks, and in a way we could say that we are Before a distant relative.

In Search Of The Revolution

The history of this device began in 1972, but the first step was not given by Seiko but another American company called Hamilton. They were the creators of thePulsar P1 , the world’s first digital wrist watch. The Japanese acquired the Americans, and set out on their own path into the digital age by releasing their first such watch in 1973.

At that time it was said that society was moving towards a revolution in visual information, and to join it with its new range of watches the Japanese companybegan to work in the research and development of liquid crystal panels (LCD) with matrix Active to be able to reproduce moving images.

During the following years these efforts helped to make their watches become smaller and thinner, with a greater density in their components and more energy efficient. They were also implementing new functions such as stopwatches and calculators.

After three years of development and invested hundreds of millions of yen, the summer of 1982 Seiko announced in Tokyo a new watch. It was TV Watch, the first to get us to finally watch TV on our wrist.

This Was Seiko’s TV Watch

A watch that you can watch TV. Today this concept seems simple, but at that time being able to carry it out was a little more complicated. The TV Watch was composed of three different elements that had to be connected together to make it work. The result was a science fiction product, yes, but a little awkward to wear.

On the one hand we had the watch, but this one had to connect it to a receiver of radio and television the size of a walkman. We also needed headphones, and these also had to be connected to the signal receiver. And how could you carry so much cable over a fairly comfortable way? Very simple, attentive to this drawing that appeared in his manual .

As you see the trick was to put the receiver cable under the sleeve to connect it to the clock. But in case we did not want to complicate our lives, TV Watch also had a function to listen only to the audio of television broadcasts.

The clock itself had dimensions of 40 x 49 x 10 millimeters and a weight of 80 grams, and all its magic was concentrated on its innovative 1.2-inch LCD in white and blue with a resolution of 32k pixels and 10 shades of gray. It also had a second smaller screen where we could see the time, set the alarm and use the stopwatch as with any other digital clock.

During the presentation of the device, its creators had to give certain explanations on how they had obtained such ingenuity. They said that their new panels controlled the molecular arrangement of liquid crystal within an electric field, and that this made it possible to create miniature images with a very low energy consumption. Especially if compared to the cathode ray tubes of conventional televisions.

The receiver had a measurement of 74.5 x 125 x 19 millimeters and a weight of 140 grams. This made it too large to carry in the back pocket of the pants, but perfect for the inside pocket of the jacket. Its battery consisted of two AA batteries that gave a five hour autonomy, and tuned both FM radio and TV on VHF & UHF channels.

What Could Have Been And Was Not

TV Watch hit the Japanese market in December 1982 with a single model DXA001 costing 108,000 yen, but later came a second model DXA002 more economical. The difference between the two was that the second included a headset instead of headphones, and its price fell to 98,000 yen. In exchange, these two models todaywould be worth around 600 and 500 euros respectively.

The presentation of the device managed to generate a lot of interest, and the clock occupied covers in newspapers and headlines on television. It was considered an innovative product for allowing us to access a large amount of information in real time, and so much drew attention that a year later it also came to the US market.

During its launch in Japan Seiko managed to sell 2,200 units, and the president of the company’s North American subsidiary said that the reception of the American media had been so good that it believed to be able to sell all that fabricated. This optimism resulted in the production of between 15,000 and 20,000 units ready to be exported.

But not everyone saw TV Watch as an invention called to revolutionize the market.In fact, it is known that at Sony came to say that their laboratories had the ability to develop a similar product, but did not believe that there was a market large enough for such devices. In the end it turns out that they were right, and the clock did not finish becoming a product of success.

In the curriculum of TV Watch we find several dates. In 1982 he won the Nikkei Award for High Quality Products and Services, and a year later made an appearance in Octopussy , the new James Bond film. The clock culminated in 1984 when it entered the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s smallest television.

In 1983 Seiko took advantage of the technology they had developed to go a little further and present the first color liquid crystal display. This new screen was implemented in the natural successor of its successful watch, which ended up being called Color Pocket TV. But this is another story.