NY Times article on wrist devices

From: Bill Douglass (douglassbill@hotmail.com)
Date: Fri Jan 21 2000 - 07:02:10 MST

Here's a fun article from today's _New York Times_, available at


The main reason I'm posting it here is because I was pleasantly surprised by
a sentence in the third paragraph:
"Until the time when such devices are implanted directly into the brain,
which is still some years away..."
This seems to me a little bit of evidence of the seepage of Extropian and
Transhumanist ideas into the mainstream.

By the way, I don't share the author's optimism that these wrist-based
deviced will catch on. The main reason is that people generally don't want
to look like geeks, with a bunch of technical equipment riding around on
their wrists. That there would be a large difference between having it ride
there, and having it ride, for example, on one's belt, might seem peculiar,
but I think it's because we've been wearing plain old time watches on our
wrists for, as this article mentions, nearly a century.

Best wishes to all,

Bill Douglass

January 20, 2000

Look Out! New Wrist Devices on the Loose!

Watches, Once Used to Tell Time, Are Rapidly Mutating...

Marty Katz for The New York Times

SAMSUNG CELL PHONE WATCH -- This comes with an earphone and is expected by
the end of the year; the price has not been set. Samsung Electronics
America, Ridgefield Park, N.J., (201)229-4000, www.samsung.com.

t took more than half a century, but the consumer model of the Dick Tracy
two-way wrist radio is almost here.

With the relentless miniaturization of technology, the time has come for
wrist devices that have function lists as long as your arm: depending on
design, they double as cell phones, one-way pagers, e-mail readers,
computers, cameras, MP3 music players, television receivers, voice
recorders, automobile security keys, television and VCR remote controls,
health monitors, weather stations, compasses, Global Positioning System
monitors, altimeters, games and simple amusements. Some can even serve as
admission passes for ski lifts and museums. And, almost as an afterthought,
they tell time.

Following the example of the pocket watch, which first moved to the wrist
less than a century ago, more than a dozen different types of electronic
gadgets are strapping on straps and competing for space on the narrow
stretch of body between the hand and the forearm. Until the time when such
devices are implanted directly into the brain, which is still some years
away, the wrist is the most convenient place on the body to wear technology.
It does not encumber the hand, does not intrude on most manual tasks, moves
easily in front of the eyes and is easier to reach than, say, the ankle.

"Timex is interested in the real estate of the wrist," said Susie Watson, a
spokeswoman for the Timex Corporation.

She declined to discuss some of the specific ideas Timex has for the wrist,
but she agreed that it was the next big technology battleground. "It's
location, location, location," she said. "The wrist is the most exciting and
accessible place on the body."

Advances in circuit integration and power management have enabled these
devices to shrink from handheld sizes to belt-clip sizes, and the move to
the wrist is seen as just another inevitable progression. As cell phones and
other gadgets become even smaller, attaching a wristband may become a
necessity to keep tiny phones and pagers from getting lost in a pocket or

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, both
Motorola and Samsung demonstrated working prototypes of a digital phone
watch -- the closest thing yet to the fanciful two-way wrist radio worn on
the comics pages by Dick Tracy, whose fondness for exotic gadgets predated
James Bond by a generation.

Marty Katz for The New York

MOTOROLA ACCOMPLI -- A prototype wrist cell phone expected to reach the
market early next year. Pricing depends on the service plan chosen, but it
is expected to be around $300.

The two-way wrist radio made its debut in the Dick Tracy strip in January
1946, said Max Allan Collins, a novelist and filmmaker who wrote the strip
from 1977 to 1993. Mr. Collins said the strip's creator, Chester Gould, had
later said he had originally wanted Tracy to wear a wrist TV but that his
editors had called the idea too far-fetched.

Unlike the nerdy Batman, who wore all his gadgets on a belt strapped over
his leotard, Dick Tracy always favored elegant wrist-based technology that
fit in more with business attire, said Mr. Collins, who made it a point to
visit the Consumer Electronics Show every year he wrote the strip. He gave
Tracy a wrist computer in the early 1980's and a digital camera wristwatch
soon afterward, which the detective used to send pictures of fingerprints
and crime scenes wirelessly back to the police labs.

(The always prescient Tracy invented TV surveillance cameras in the early
1950's and investigated video piracy in the early 1980's. In the early
1990's, he tracked bad guys by triangulating on their cell phone calls, a
technique that only recently has become popular with the F.B.I.)

The Samsung phone, expected to reach the market before the end of the year,
uses speech recognition to allow the wearer to "dial" the wristphone by
speaking the numbers, and a tiny speakerphone eliminates the need to use an
earpiece. A Samsung spokesman said it was safe to assume that the first
units would cost more than the average detective's per diem.

Motorola's version of the wrist phone also uses speech recognition but
requires an ear-bud speaker and a microphone cord. Motorola said other
prototypes of the wrist phone were being tested, all based on Motorola's
popular V Series of small digital phones.

The wrist computer made its real-world debut in 1994, the wrist TV (in an
ungainly size) in 1998 and the Casio TV Remote Control Watch in 1999.

Casio's beefy G.P.S. watch arrived last year.

Seiko-Epson built a prototype wrist TV in 1982, only 18 years after Dick
Tracy got one. Over the years, several other companies have built
prototypes, but to get a decent-size color screen (say, 2 1/2 inches
diagonally) and enough battery power to run it for an hour or two, the video
watches had to weigh more than a pound. Last year, researchers at Microtune
in Texas shrank a TV receiver and tuner to microchip size, and new screen
and battery technologies could bring a wristwatch TV to market in about a

However, Mark Knox, senior manager of Samsung's digital group, said a more
intriguing possibility was a wristwatch-style television receiver and tuner
that would attach to a pair of high-resolution display eyeglasses.

The wrist-TV-and-eyeglasses combination could conceivably float the
equivalent of a 60-inch HDTV picture in front of the wearer's eyes. "This is
not a this-year thing," Mr. Knox said, "but it could be a next-year thing."

The Microsoft Corporation and Timex teamed up in 1994 to combine the
functions of a Windows-based personal information manager with a wristwatch,
in the form of the Timex Data Link watch. Curiously, Casio has been
promoting its PC Unite watch as a "world's first." Casio says the device
will be able to synchronize with Microsoft Outlook files and hold telephone
numbers, schedules and to-do lists -- just like the Timex Data Link. It can
also exchange data with Palm P.D.A.'s and Windows CE-based pocket PC's and
even other PC Unite watches.

  Marty Katz for The New York Times

CRIMESTOPPER VISION CAR ALARM WATCH -- About $100, available soon. Works
with Crimestopper Rage auto security systems, replacing keychain
transmitters. Crimestopper Security Products Inc., Simi Valley, Calif.,
(800)998-6880, www.crimestopper.com.

MP3 music players are taking different forms, ranging from Sony's prototype
Memory Stick MP3 player, about the size of a cigarette lighter, to Samsung's
prototype headphones with an MP3 player and Memory Stick slot. It was no
surprise, then, to see a couple of MP3 watches on display.

Casio's Wrist Audio Player, one of three exotic watches the company
demonstrated, will be able to store about 30 minutes of MP3 music files. The
files are downloaded to the watch from a PC. The capacity of the MP3 watch
doubles to about an hour for lower-quality MP3 files, like audio books.

The Casio Wrist Audio Player will be available in the spring at about $250.

Samsung also demonstrated an MP3 watch prototype, along with an MP3
telephone that held an entire audio CD's worth of music, although the
company appeared more proud of what it said was the world's first TV pocket
phone. The TV phone has a 1.8-inch color screen that can display VHF and UHF
broadcast channels in 256 colors.

A Sony spokesman noted that its tiny MP3 player could easily be moved to the
wrist. He also speculated that wrist-based MP3 players might also double as
voice recorders in the near future.

Casio's Data Bank Camera Watch includes a tiny black-and-white digital
camera that takes low-resolution images. The camera stores up to 100
postage-stamp-size images that can be viewed on the watch face or
transferred to a computer or small printer via an infrared link. The most
common use for this watch, a Casio spokesman predicted, will be to snap
pictures of people's faces to affix to the back of their business cards.
Look for it in May at about $200.

Seiko Instruments, which introduced a wrist computer called the Ruputer in
1998, has a new "thermic" watch that is powered by body heat instead of
batteries. As soon as the watch is removed from the wrist it goes into
power-saving hibernation.

Often forgotten in this vaudeville of tricks is the fact that some new
watches also tell time with atomic precision. Atomic precision these days
means that the watch will neither gain nor lose a second in some 20 million
years, which more than covers the probable warranty period. Today's atomic
clocks are so accurate that they have to be adjusted periodically to account
for fluctuations in Earth's rotation. There is no such thing as an atomic
wristwatch yet, but the next best thing is a radio-receiver watch that picks
up the WWVB radio signal broadcast from the National Institute of Standards
and Technology. Such wristwatches use the radio signal to adjust and
maintain atomic time, even adjusting for daylight time, and the date.

Timex has a new technology called Flextime, built into its Beepwear line of
pager watches, that automatically sets and keeps the correct time even as
the wearer changes time zones. When the pager is turned on and is in the
paging coverage area, Skytel keeps track of Coordinated Universal Time, used
by G.P.S. satellites, which are in turn maintained by the atomic clocks
operated by the government. Every four minutes or so, the pager gets a
signal with the precise time and date. Once a day, any time drift is
corrected, to the second. The Beepwear Pro watch is about $175, plus about
$10 monthly for local paging service.

The original Beepwear watches used to be so bulky that wearing one was like
wearing half a tennis ball on your wrist, but newer models have been
streamlined. They can receive news, sports and weather updates, and keep
track of more than 100 contacts.

Marty Katz for The New York Times

CASIO WRIST AUDIO PLAYER (left) Expected in May for $149 to $249. This
high-end model stores up to about 30 minutes of CD-quality MP3 music
downloaded from a computer. Casio Inc., Dover, N.J., www.casio.com, support
line (800)962-2746. CASIO PC UNITE (center) An organizer that links via
infrared signals with Microsoft Outlook and Palm devices, available in the
spring for $99 (black) and $129 (silver). CASIO WRIST CAMERA (right) A
Windows-compatible digital camera that snaps and stores up to 100 small
black-and-white pictures in JPEG or BMP formats. Expected in May at around
$200, www.casio.com.

A new watch made by Swatch even tries to set a new universal time standard
it calls "Internet Time, which divides the day into 1,000 "beats" of 86.4
seconds each. The center of time, 0 in Internet time, is midnight at the
Swatch headquarters in Switzerland.

Will Internet Time ever catch on? That sounds like a question for Timex's
TMX Mystery Answer Watch. Timex has shrunk the venerable magic 8-ball into a
wristwatch, with 14 random enigmatic replies. Will the stock market crash
today? "Maybe." "Can't Tell."

On the other, slightly more practical, hand, Timex has a line of Rush
watches that calculate the user's heart rate during workouts. They also have
up to 10 preset timers.

Mark of Fitness Inc. won an award at the show for its Wristwatch-Style Blood
Pressure Monitor MF-73, as did Oregon Scientific for its Pulsemeter
Wristwatch PM-138, which uses an optical pulse sensor to measure heart rate
with a mere touch of a finger.

Several companies have developed prototypes of wrist-based blood glucose
monitors for diabetics, but these are still several years away from
practical consumer use.

Swatch watches are better known for fashion than for technology, but the
company regularly attempts to push technology ahead. Indeed, it had an early
and unfortunately ungainly version of the cell-phone watch some time ago.

But it may be onto something with its Swatch Access technology, which blends
"smart card" digital storage with a timepiece. At some ski reports, the
wearer of an Access watch can purchase and download ski lift passes into the
watch. The wearer points an arm at a Swatch scanner and turnstiles open,
sort of an E-ZPass system for skiers. The microchip in the Access watch can
also be used for storing admission tickets to museums or concerts, or as a
hotel key.

As it assumes a greater role in the technology world, the wrist may also
become more vulnerable to repetitive stress injuries. Of course, Dick Tracy
packed a lot onto his wrist for 54 years without problems.

State of the Art is published on Thursdays. Click here for a list of links
to other columns in the series.


Peter H. Lewis at lewis@nytimes.com welcomes your comments and suggestions.
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