After the revolutionary Timex Datalink in the 90s, Seiko released their own wristwatch computer called the Ruputer.
It didn’t reach the lofty heights attained by the Datalink, but it certainly earned its place in wearable-technology history.
Today’s wearable technology scene is ever-expanding, but the main focus at the moment is smartwatches. Who’s building the best, most high-tech, most compatible and most user-friendly product?
Users are more and more demanding as their devices become more sophisticated – so a smartwatch hoping to complement or streamline operations better have something amazing to offer.
In the 1990s, a watch that communicated with a computer was mind-bending. Tech experts will tell you that the first really significant development in smartwatch technology was the Timex Datalink in 1994. While it was certainly ground-breaking technology, Seiko made sure that it wasn’t the only offering available.
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The design of the Ruputer
The Ruputer was later repackaged and re-marketed as the OnHand PC in the US, a PDA for your wrist. Funnily enough, it actually looked a lot like a smartwatch on today’s market. The main unit was either clear or black, square with rounded edges, and attached to a watch strap. The screen was big and offered full graphic display.
Keen to input an appointment or make a reminder note about taking the dog to the vet? You’d simply use the little joystick at the bottom of the watch’s face to slide back and forth over a digital keyboard and select letters and numbers one by one. It’d be a horribly laborious exercise now, but then it was a novel and exciting concept.
What was the Ruputer like?
Seiko’s Ruputer showed up just after the Datalink, and even though it wasn’t as cleverly thought out as the Timex offering, it still has some seriously advanced features. You had access to 512KB of storage with the option to bump it up to 2MB or 4MB (when it became the OnHand PC, it was only available with 2MB). The display was a dot-matrix LCD and EL backlighting, and it could connect to your PC via serial port dock or infrared. Otherwise you could input data manually with the joystick.
What could the Ruputer do?
What’s interesting is that the OnHand PC came standard with 30 applications already installed, including a text reader, address book, weather app, games and a scheduler. Modern day smartwatches require that the user downloads and installs the equivalents of these basics separately.
Besides keeping time where you are, the OnHand PC also kept track of a world clock. It could also set alarms, display appointments in a monthly calendar, store addresses and phone numbers, view images in monomap mode (shoddy quality but considered high-tech in the 1990s) and play various sounds (not music).
What happened to the OnHand PC?
While the Ruputer / OnHand PC was a nifty little gadget, it didn’t quite measure up to its competitors, who offered more memory and better battery life. The screen was also too small for effective data inputting. The rubber wrist band was difficult to adjust with several users and reviewers claiming they would’ve preferred a Velcro alternative. Inputting data with the tiny joystick – while a fun feature at first – became a big sticking point after prolonged use. The Fossil Wrist PDA, its biggest competitor, featured a tiny stylus stored in the clasp.
Its biggest letdown was its short battery life. The two lithium ion batteries ran down extremely quickly, and since tech-heads enjoying fiddling and playing with their gadgets, running out of battery so quickly was incredibly off-putting. When weighing the pros and the cons, even the most amazingly high-tech features are compromised by unusually short battery life.
The OnHand PC was one of the beacons in mid-90s wearable technology. The company that produced it, Matsucom, discontinued production and distribution in April 2006. However, you can still find units for sale online if you wish to complete your wearables collection.