If we think of smart watches, it is hard to believe that they existed before smartphones. They are a thing of this last decade and have hardly become popular in the last three or four years, right? Well, it turns out there was a smart watch in 1998 that even had a joystick. Let’s meet the Seiko Ruputer.
Ruputer was the idea of the watch manufacturer Seiko for offering what can be considered the first smart watch in history. All this, of course, caught with tweezers. He certainly wasn’t capable of doing the things smartwatches do today, and even today’s sloppiest quantification bracelet offers us more. But hey, we’re talking about a contraption from 22 years ago.
What was it like to wear “a computer” on your wrist in 1998
Little minimalist design. The Ruputer is considerably thick and even wider. In fact, its screen is landscape, nothing rectangular in portrait like the current ones, much less circular. It has three buttons on one side and one more on the other. No touch screen, with the buttons the user navigated through the menus and interacted with the clock.
But in addition to the buttons, perhaps the most interesting thing is the joystick that included to move faster. An eight-axis joystick that allowed scrolling up, down, sides and diagonals. It was at the bottom front at the start of what has been the strap. In the absence of a touch screen, ingenuity.
Typically, we will find heart rate sensors on the back of smart watches or the like. Not on this one, the Ruputer didn’t have any kind of accelerometer to measure steps or the like. If there is a sensor that we can count as such, it is the one used to transmit information by infrared.
16-bit 3.6 MHz processor, 128 KB of RAM and 2 MB of storage
Starting with the screen we have a monochrome 2 “LCD panel. Its resolution was limited to 102 x 64 pixels. Writing on that screen (because there was a virtual keyboard) had to be quite a torture. If it already costs on a current touch panel What would it be like to do it with a tiny, finger-controlled joystick? No thanks.
As far as battery is concerned … It may be the most shocking of all: a standard CR2025 battery. No rechargeable battery, the Seiko Ruputer had to change the battery every time it ran out. And he did it often. With a “normal” use it hardly lasted about 30 hours and only if you activated the extreme battery saving mode did it reach three months. So yes, every two or three days you had to buy a new battery for the watch.
The capabilities of the watch were diverse. At first, an attempt was made to imitate what other devices of the time were already doing but miniaturized. Does it ring a bell? This is what current smartwatches tried a few years ago when trying to miniaturize the mobile and its functions. In this case, the Seiko Ruputer sought to have the functions of a PDA, something really complicated for the technology of the time.
The watch had a calendar, a stopwatch, file folders, a contact list, a task list, interchangeable dials, notes and even an app for drawing. It also had the odd game like chess or a version of Tamagotchi. But of course, there was little you could do if you didn’t have a battery pack with you to change them.
The same dilemma in 2020 as in 1998
Seiko Ruputer was succeeded by the onHand PC. A slightly improved version that also came in two different colors. Among the improvements we found was the possibility of controlling the interface with a dedicated program on the PC. This allowed you to sync content such as Internet news headlines. onHand PC did not last for many years either, in 2006 the product was discontinued.
Seen in perspective, the Seiko Ruputer generally had similar problems to those that we find today in smart watches. At first it was a watch larger than traditional ones. Fortunately, the current ones have been reduced in comparison. And then we have the problem of autonomy (which some try to solve) and the real utility of the watch. Recharging the smart watch is tedious and even more to change the batteries. And then there is the usual question: am I really going to take advantage of it? 22 years apart, same things to solve.