• Nick Thilen

A Brief History of Wearable Technology


1977 – HP-01

The Hewlett Packard HP-01 is considered the first wearable device to have a mass market impact. It was branded as a calculator wristwatch but showcased other technologies such as time of day, alarm, timer, stopwatch, date and calendar. The watch sold for over $3000 in today’s dollars. Currently these watches sell for over $4000 as collectable items. The watch was sold with a dual sided pen with one side functioning as a stylis for pressing the buttons on the watch.

1979 - Walkman

The Walkman brought portable music to the mass market. Sony sold hundreds of millions of Walkman related devices within the next couple decades and paved the way for portable digital music players. The Walkman sold for what would be about $750 today. The most interesting feature was the orange “hotline button” which lowered the volume and used the microphone to help the user engage in a conversation without removing their headphones.


1983 – Seiko DATA-2000

This “smartwatch” is the Seiko DATA-2000 and was sold in 1983 through 1984. Thankfully the QWERTY keyboard was detachable for wearing but together they supplied the ability to enter and store up to 100 lines of text as well as calculator functions, alarms, timer, stopwatch and date.

1987 – Nicolet Digital Hearing aid

The first electronic hearing aid was made by the Nicolet corporation and dubbed project Phoenix in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin. The hearing aid required a processor to be worn on the body due to the fact that technology was not available yet to miniaturize all components. The three buttons on the processor allowed the user to change the sound settings and then adjust volume control on the earpiece.


1994 - Timex Datalink

The first wireless smart watch was released in 1994 and was developed in partnership with Microsoft. The watch “linked” by reading light omitted from a computer via an optical sensor embedded in the watch to download information such as appointments and other reminders. The wireless download allowed this watch to ditch the keyboards and buttons of earlier smart watches increasing toughness and water resistance.

1998 - Smartwatch

Steve Mann often referred to as “the father of wearable computing” debuted a watch running a Linux operating system. Pictured is the watch with a digital display including an image of Stephen Ross to demonstrate videoconferencing.

1999 - Ericsson Bluetooth Headset

Though development of short link radio technology began in 1989 in Sweden, Ericsson, Intel, Nokia, Toshiba and IBM launched the Bluetooth SIG in 1998 which allowed for the first consumer Bluetooth device to be debuted in 1999. Pictured with a compatible cell phone the Eriksson Bluetooth headset was released in 1999 as the first Bluetooth device available to consumers.


2001 – iPod

In 2001 Apple followed up its release of iTunes with the release of the iPod. A digital portable music device that could hold up to 2000 songs. The device had a battery life of 10 hours and a price tag of $399 - $499. The device came in 5GB and 10 GB models. The device had a scroll wheel which would be featured on many future iPods and was also surrounded by 4 buttons along with a center selection button. Although it was not the first mp3 player it had strong sales and helped Apple become the company it is today.

2004 – GoPro

Development for this wearable portable camera began in 2002 and the first generation go pro was released in 2004. The camera had a 5-megapixel resolution and could film in 1080p at 30 fps. The GoPro was marketed towards sports enthusiasts and was sold with a waterproof case providing protection for up to 60m depths.

2009 – FitBit

The original Fitbit activity tracker was released in 2009. It was designed to clip onto clothing and was used to track your movement, calorie burn and sleep throughout the day. The original Fitbit cost $99. The device was wireless allowing all of the data to automatically synchronize to a computer and had an online dashboard to view your data.


2013 - Omate Truesmart

The Omate Truesmart was a smartwatch developed by Omate, a Chinese company from Hong Kong. The device was a result of a Kickstarter campaign that raised over 1 million dollars. The Omate was one of the first watches to make calls and also navigate and use smartphone applications.

2013 - Google Glass

The Google Glass was a pair of smart glasses which had a camera and an optical head mounted display. It displayed information similar to a smartphone but in a hands-free format. The user communicated to the glasses via voice commands.

2015 - Apple watch

The apple watch was built as a device to compliment the iPhone. It provides alerts to the users including in the form of haptic feedback and can run applications for many different purposes. The watch also has a heart rate sensor and can be used as an activity tracker.

2016 - Oculus Rift

Oculus released their virtual reality headset in March of 2016. Oculus VR is now a division of Facebook Inc. but was originally founded in 2012 and ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of their VR headset. They raised over 2.5 million dollars. The headset has many applications including gaming, media, social experiences as well as industrial and professional use cases.

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