Dick Tracy, get ready to eat your heart out

I’ve always had a fascination with wristwatches and I’ll never forget the coolest watch I’ve ever owned. It was the mid-’80s and my mother bought me a calculator watch. The face of the watch was covered with ultra-miniature calculator keys, and I suppose there were some bony-fingered science-types out there who could perform some pretty complex calculations using it, but as an eight-year-old kid, I mostly used it to compute how many comic books I could buy with the three dollars and odd change I was carrying with me. It was actually a terrible gift to give a child because there were some pretty strict rules to using calculators in the classroom and one strapped to your wrist was a flagrant violation of that rule. So, in actuality, I never really got to wear it much.

And that has been about it for watch technology over the past 30-some years. Not too many advances have been made in fashionable yet functional wrist wear. Oh sure, there have been numerous attempts at putting cameras and recording devices on watches so that you can spy on your boss, co-workers, or loved ones. But really. If you are that insecure with your professional and personal relationships, maybe your money is better spent elsewhere. And while there is nothing stopping you from dropping 12 grand on a Breitling with a Swiss Chronograph that would make Chuck Yeager green with envy, do you really want to spend the equivalent of a year’s tuition at a state school on a piece of jewelry that you probably will never wear outside of the house just because it is a $12,000 watch? Yeah, me too.

There is no doubt that, for the average person, technology is centered around smartphones. Apart from being able to turn lead into gold, there are about five other things that your smartphone isn’t able to control—or have some level of interaction with. And everyone has one. Everyone. I’ve seen children under 10 carrying iPhones and grandmothers who look like they are approaching 200 tweeting on Androids. If you aren’t carrying a smartphone, then you my friend, are out of touch — both figuratively and literally … because they have touchscreens, you know?

So I’m thinking to myself that it is strange that we don’t have smartwatches. It seems like futurists are always talking about some new technological breakthrough that will make some common device, “small enough to wear on your wrist,” but I’m still wearing a Timex I found on the street over 12 years ago and it does the same thing its predecessor did. Well, I’m pleased to announce the future is here.

Imagine you are sitting in a meeting and your phone vibrates, indicating that you’ve just received an email. You don’t want to be that rude guy who reaches into his pocket, pulls out his phone and starts scrolling through messages. How cool would it be to take a quick glance at your watch and be able to not only see who sent you the message, but be able to read it as well? Or how about being able to answer calls or send them to voicemail with a simple tap on your wrist?

Four smartwatches, with multi-touch screens, are starting to make waves by offering that type of functionality: the i’m Watch, Inpulse Smartwatch, WIMM One Smartwatch, and the Sony SmartWatch.

Using Bluetooth connectivity, the watches pair with your phone and work like any other Bluetooth device: control and functionality of specific actions and apps. All four watches offer the same basic functionality, to varying degrees, of being able to view incoming messages, control basic phone operation, view calendars, control music players, and of course tell time. And regardless of what phone OS you are using, there is at least one that will work for you — the i’m Watch and WIMM One works with Android, Blackberry, and iPhones; the Inpulse works with Android and Blackberry; and the Sony Smartwatch works only with Android.

With the exception of the i’m Watch, which will run you anywhere between $450 to $2,000, these watches can be purchased for less than $200.

Most of the messaging functionality — email, text messaging, Facebook, and Twitter — only allow you to view the incoming message, not respond to it. While that might not seem practical, I don’t think you would want to try to compose any sort of message using a keyboard the size of a postage stamp. The benefit of the functionality is that you don’t have to reach into your pocket every time someone pings you with a message — a quick glance at your wrist would allow to see what is going on in your world.

Only the Sony Smartwatch and i’m Watch allow you to answer your phone through a bluetooth headset — the i’m Watch has a built-in speakerphone as well, ala Dick Tracy. I should be so cool.

Third-party app development is underway for all the devices and while it is still in its infancy, some pretty cool apps are already becoming available including “Viewfinder” which will stream the incoming image from your phone’s camera directly to the watch face. A tap on the wrist will trigger the phones shutter. Other third party apps hitting the markets are focused around fitness and bio-monitoring. But with all things app-related, it won’t be too long before there are a multitude of smartwatch accessible apps available. That $12,000 chronograph seems kinda lame compared to a watch that not only has chronograph capabilities but can also tell you altitude, velocity, and give you GPS readouts of your current location, all while getting texts from your wife telling you to pick up a carton of milk.

From a fashion standpoint, most of the watches have interchangeable bands of varying widths and colors, and the Sony Smartwatch can be clipped directly to your clothing or backpacks/purses. The Sony Smartwatch is also the smallest of the bunch and looks fairly inconspicuous on the wrist, while the Inpulse is kind of bulky. The i’m Watch, which is a highly fashionable watch, looks big on smaller wrists like those of women and children, but is fairly striking when worn by a man.

While I am totally and completely excited over this new era of wristwatches, I am a little disappointed in that none of these watches currently has a calculator app on it and right now I’ve got three bucks and some spare change and am looking for something to read.

Wailes is an interactive developer at Burns Marketing Communications in Johnstown. If you have questions or would like to suggest a topic for a future Geek Chic column, email him at news@ncbr.com.

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