Smartwatch timeline: The devices that paved the way for the Apple Watch

From 1927 to 2021 - here are the 19 most important smartwatches in history
Smartwatch timeline
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The Apple Watch may well be the biggest selling smartwatch in history, but let's not forget that the Cupertino giant was a latecomer to wearables.

In fact, the first smartwatch dates back to 1927 and there was a real boom in the 80s and 90s.

Read on for our list of the 19 most important smartwatches ever, the ones that paved the way for the Apple Watch...

1927: Plus Four Wristlet Route Indicator

Plus Four Wristlet Route Indicator

There's no GPS built into this absolute beaut from the 1920s, but it would still help you get from A to B. Simply slot in the scroll map cartridge for your set route (London to Bournemouth sounds lovely) and away you go. Sure, you have to do some manual knob twiddling on the dual crowns, but at least you didn't have to charge it every night.

1972: Pulsar

1972: Pulsar

Fifty years later the first all-electric digital watch arrived, from the Hamilton Watch Company, wrapped up in 18-carat gold.

It boasted LEDs and you had to push a button to see the time. A bargain at $2,100 back in 1972.

1982: Seiko TV Watch

smartwatch history

As worn by James Bond in Octopussy, this 'smart' watch needed an adapter and a whopping great receiver box in order to show grainy TV images below the digital time display.

It cost about £500 and your TV action was presented in ten shades of grey. That's not a softcore porno, that's the display.

1983: Seiko Data-2000

smartwatch history

Slick looking, right? The Data-2000 could store memos (well, two of them) and calendar entries and also acted as a calculator. You had to make use of the clip on keyboard but hey, that was part of the fun. Seiko was pretty prolific in the smartwatch arena in the 80s. It also launched the UC-2000, the RC-1000, the Memo Diary and the UC-3000 within a year of the Data-2000.

1985: Sinclair FM Wristwatch Radio

smartwatch history

A damn shame that this never made it past the prototype stage, this monster from the British company behind the massively successful ZX Spectrum, working alongside watch specialist Timex, had three separate sections: an LCD watch, piezoelectric speaker and FM tuner, along with a battery compartment in the clasp. It was cancelled as a result of Sinclair's financial woes, with only 11,000 being produced.

1995: Seiko MessageWatch

smartwatch history

Not only could this watch display caller IDs (using FM sideband frequencies), it could also display updates on a variety of subjects ranging from sports scores, stock prices and weather forecasts. That's pretty much Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri right? Only 20 years before and not so colourful.

1995: Breitling Emergency Watch

smartwatch history

Packing a distress signal that could be picked up from anywhere within 90 nautical miles, the Breitling Emergency Watch was credited in helping in the rescue of two British pilots after their helicopter crashed in Antarctica in 2003.

In 2013, the Emergency II was launched and can be bought for around £9,000.

1998: Linux Wristwatch

smartwatch history

The 'father of wearable computing', Steve Mann built the first Linux-powered watch in 1998 and a prototype was launched by IBM two years later.

“Designed to communicate wirelessly with PCs, cell phones and other wireless-enabled devices, the 'smart watch' will have the ability to view condensed email messages and directly receive pager-like messages," read the fact-sheet.

“Future enhancements will include a high-resolution screen and applications that will allow the watch to be used as an access device for various Internet-based services such as up-to-the-minute information about weather, traffic conditions, the stock market, sports results and so on."

That's why Mann is the daddy.

2002: Fossil Palm Pilot

smartwatch history

Fossil is looking to get back into the wearable tech game – it was recently revealed that the US watch company will be teaming up with Intel for a smartwatch assault.

It was 12 years ago that it had its first crack. Awarded 'best of Comdex 2002' it featured a 160 x 160 display, 2MB of internal memory and Palm apps such as address book, memo pad, to-do list and a calculator.

It had a stylus integrated into the strap. Samsung Galaxy Note anyone?

2003: Microsoft SPOT

smartwatch history

Microsoft eventually got into the wearable tech game in 2015 but, over a decade before, it was working with the likes of Citizen, Timex, Fossil and Suunto on these SPOT 'Smart Personal Object Technology' devices.

It was based on the idea of presenting digital information in a non-distracting way – which is still the mantra for smartwatches today. The problem was that in 2003, that information just wasn't useful enough.

SPOT devices were discontinued in 2008, and clearly the idea of a $59 a year subscription fee for updates never really proved popular.

2003: Garmin Forerunner

smartwatch history

Garmin has a pretty strong foothold in the GPS sports watch arena; it's an area it's been involved in for over 10 years. The original Forerunner range paved the way for the likes of the Forerunner 15 by measuring speed, distance, pace and calories burned, and it ran from a pair of AAA batteries – which would get you around 14 hours of action. Fair to say that things have slimmed down slightly in nearly 20 years.

2012: Nike+ Fuelband

smartwatch history

A jump into this decade now and the hugely successful Nike+ Fuelband. It tracked your steps, earning you Fuel Points throughout the day. It offered automatic syncing using Bluetooth and the second edition, which launched in 2013, improved the ambient light settings so it glowed brighter in darker situations.

2012: Sony SmartWatch

smartwatch history

At a glance, the Sony SmartWatch doesn't look too different to the devices of today. The original Sony SmartWatch was a companion device for the Xperia smartphone range, running a modified version of Android. It had a 1.3-inch OLED display and was well-received by the tech press, despite its tendency to crash for no apparent reason. It was succeeded by the SmartWatch 2 in 2013, and the Android-Wear toting SmartWatch 3 was a a high-water mark for the brand in 2015. However, there was no Sony SmartWatch 4 – and the line hasn't been continued.

2013: Pebble

2013: Pebble

Back in 2013 the Pebble smartwatch campaign was the most successful Kickstarter ever. Capable of a range of notifications, the Pebble could also act as a remote controller for your smartphone, or for devices such as the GoPro camera. The Pebble app store had over 1,000 applications, and its fun, quirky design inspired a cult following.

However, when the smartwatch market heated up with Apple and Samsung coming to play, Pebble couldn't keep up.

It was eventually bought and shuttered by Fitbit, but its innovations are still at the heart of modern wearables such as the Fitbit Versa and Fitbit Sense.

Take a look at our tribute to the original Pebble – a smartwatch icon.

2013: Samsung Galaxy Gear

The Gear that kickstarted Samsung's smartwatch assault, this device was announced at IFA 2013. A year later and we now have six Samsung smartwatches. It seems the trusted Sammy method of saturating the market with its devices is being applied to the smartwatch genre.

The original Gear was a critical flop, and very much stank of a product released just to beat Apple to the punch.

However, Samsung stayed in the race and has risen to be #2 in the smartwatch global rankings. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 reunited it with a Google OS, and is part of a resurgence to challenge Apple's dominance.

2014: Samsung Gear Fit

The original Gear did pave the way for some great Gear devices though and the Gear Fit created some wow factor for the market with its gorgeous curved OLED display.

It was unveiled at MWC 2014, along with the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo devices.

2014: Moto 360

Android Wear was announced in March 2014 at the Google I/O conference and the pick of the trio of launch devices was, undoubtedly, Motorola's round effort.

The Moto 360 took on an almost mythical status thanks to its round design, and the fact it looked so much more like a proper watch than early Android Wear debutants.

It was followed up by a Moto 360 2 in 2015 and Moto 360 Sport in 2016, but that was the last we saw of the brand under Motorola. In 2019, it did come back, licensed to eBuyNow, a company that relaunches unloved older brands. But the result was an under-par, too-expensive tribute to what was once an inspirational device on the wearables roadmap.

2014: Samsung Gear S

2014: Samsung Gear S

A huge, cuff-like smartwatch, the Samsung Gear S was a technological showpiece that carved out a loyal niche.

It boasted 3G connectivity, promising the ability to operate without an accompanying smartphone – a first for Samsung smartwatches, which before now required a Galaxy handset.

Samsung's new smartwatch certainly looked the business, with an enormous 2-inch curved display that makes use of the curved Super AMOLED face found on the Samsung Gear Fit.

The 360 x 480 resolution was by far the best at the time – and still stacks up today.

However, the huge display looked insane to wear and it was far from comfortable – and there was no follow-up.

2015 - 2021: Apple Watch

While the world expected it to be called the iWatch, the Apple Watch was officially unveiled to an expectant crowd in Cupertino in September 2014.

While it signalled a new era of smartwatches, the first generation lacked GPS, apps had to be piggy-backed from iPhone versions, and they couldn't access the Apple Watch's array of sensors.

But it's come a long way since. In the six years to the Apple Watch Series 6, the company has perfected a blend of user-friendly fitness features, sports modes, mastered notifications and supercharged its App Store. But it's gone further: the Apple Watch has spearheaded features such as ECG, heart rate notifications, fall detection, walkie-talkie modes, LTE on the wrist.

It's not only become the leading smartwatch brand, but displaced the likes of Rolex, Tag Heuer and other Swiss watch giants to become the all-out biggest watch globally. Impressive stuff.