Can you improve on the wrist watch?

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I like watches of all shapes and sizes and while I’ll admit that I prefer a digital timepiece I love the elegance and genius of the true analogue watches, those that work and keep accurate time with out even a battery. But can you improve on the normal everyday wrist watch?
Timex - IronmanI currently own a Timex Ironman watch it’s not that fancy, it tells the time the date and has a nice light for if you want to see the time in the dark. It’s got a stop watch, that I’ve never used and an alarm that is too soft to actually wake me up but at least lets me know if I’m running on time or late in the mornings. (I should be dressed and ready when it goes off.) The watch tells the time in both analogue and digital and if I want it too look really fancy I can turn the digital portion off and just have the analogue portion working.

This watch has it’s problems though, the biggest of which is that only Timex straps fit it and a strap seems to last me less than a year. A replacement strap cost more than half the price of the watch which is rather annoying too. (Which reminds me I need to replace the strap again as it’s starting to break *sigh*.)

Now where was I?…

The question is can you actually improve on the wrist watch…

I can think of lots of things that would be “cool” to have on a watch a GPS map, bluetooth link to my phone so I can see who’s calling without taking the phone out of my pocket or see that I have an sms or email, the weather report, news headlines, perhaps sports scores, a mp3 player, calculator, usb flash drive and the list goes on. You can now get a wrist watches that do some of these things but they’ve never really sold well or been terrible popular.

The simple reason is that while all of those things are “cool” they’re don’t actually in any way improve the primary purpose of the wrist watch… which is to tell the time. Or is that the watches primary purpose?

JITWatchI’ve never really thought about it… it’s just an automatic response, the purpose of my watch is to tell me the time. But over the weekend I was reading up about a new watch called the JITWatch developed by Martin Frey and it was his description of the mental monologue that you go through every time you look at your watch that made me suddenly aware that we use our watch and other time pieces to work out are we late or how long till our next appointment and not to simply tell the time.

The mental monologue that Martin describes is as follows:

  • What time is it right now?
  • When is my next appointment?
  • Where does the appointment take place and how long does it take to get there from here?
  • Thus, when should I leave?
  • How much time is left till then? Should I leave now? Am I already too late?

So what if your watch was intelligent and able to do all of the above for you and then display it graphically on screen for you in a simple easy to read method? That’s exactly what the JITWatch does, you sync your appoitmnets with it and then let it connect to your cellphone via bluetooth. It’s then able to work out what must happen when and via GPS or other position technology and via GPRS get things like bus timetables, traffic reports etc so that it can work out how long it would take to get to your destination.

If you watch the clip about the watch you can see just how cool this kind of interface is, the idea of snapping your fingers instead of pushing a button is also very cool idea for interfacing with it. One of the things you’ll notice in the clip is a common problem for all of these tiny devices, and that is working out how to power them. In the movie you see how the strap contains a few lithium coin battery’s to power the device, the idea that I might have to charge my watch every night when I got home like I have to do with my cell phone is a bit annoying but it’s something that I hope over time someone will solve.

I do wonder if it wouldn’t be simpler to take this idea and rather than implement it as a watch, design the software so that it runs on a cellphone perhaps using a watch simply as a display device.
Can you improve on the Wrist Watch? Yes I think so, but I’m not sure you would want to. I hope that I never reach the point where my life is run by a calendar and what appointments I have for the day, when my watch is no longer something nice I wear on my arm but instead an important tool that ensures that my day runs smoothly and that I am able to make all my appointments on time.

Don’t get me wrong, I really, really would like a JITWatch as I think it’s an awesome use of the technology and a really cool geek toy. I just hope that I never need one.