Sunday, July 22, 2007

My museum of content realted artefacts (8)

1995: Seiko SMS watch

In 1995 I bought a Seiko MessageWatch. It was one with a digital display, indicating the time, while the display also rendered messages such as telephone numbers to call, but also short messages. It was a nice piece of technology. And the technology enabled communication and content; but the services were lousy, at least in the Netherlands. They eventually folded when mobile phones with SMS became popular.

The MessageWatch was a nice combination of a time piece and a chip containing a tunable receiver chip, a DSP chip to extract the information. It used an FM subcarrier to receive its information. The FM subcarrier is an auxiliary channel used for items like Musak music, data and communications and foreign-language audio channels. Seiko negotiated per country access to the FM subcarrier and organised its service. So when I arrived in New York in 1998 the temperature in the city was displayed on my watch.

In the Netherlands someone wearing the MessageWatch could receive message from people, who used the phone in order to get into contact with them or who wanted to mail short standard messages like SMS messages now, but shorter. So the office regularly sent a message, requesting to call someone who had phoned the office. And then I jumped out of the train or bus, went to a public phone booth and called the person in question. There was a problem as far as coverage; you were never sure that the message arrived.

But on the technology also a publishing service was organised. In the Netherlands the service was called Minimail. The service broadcasted very short headlines. And the shorter the headlines, the more incomprehensible the message became. You can not do much with a headline like: Dangerous explosion without the mention of a location. But the service was cheap and in most cases you could make out what was going on. On January 1, 2002 the Dutch Minimail service, which took care of transmitting the messages and services to the smart watches, ended its services after six years of service.

As mobile phones were not as common as they are now, the Seiko MessageWatch was a nice intermediary device with content, a headline news service. The watch was only a receiving device. It was not the communication device in the series Star Trek, in which Captain Kirk requests transportation from Montgomery Scott with the famous sentence: Beam me up, Scotty.

The message watch remained a mythical piece. In January 2003 Microsoft announced details of a comparable service to transmit information over FM radio to watches equipped with its Smart Personal Objects Technology. SPOT watch buyers would be able to select from a menu micro messages such as news, stock quotes, weather, traffic, and restaurant guides. By the end of the year the launch was postponed. The main differences between the MessageWatch and SPOT watches were the network connection and advances in low-power radio receivers that make for more powerful receivers and longer battery life. By January 2004 the smart watches based on Microsoft’s SPOT Technology came onto the market, amongst others produced by Swatch, but the watch did not make any impression. In fact it never crossed the ocean to Europe. Time had passed for this push technology.

But as the world turns, a new watch has been manufactured, to which you can speak and receive messages, the M500 Mobile Fone Watch. You can use it to phone; it is a tri-band GSM with GPRS. It has a touch screen display, multimedia player (MP3/AAC/MP4), Bluetooth and USB on board. It looks great, but battery life is not long; only 80 hours in standby mode. But despite the communication facilities, it looks that it will be only a luxury gadget competing with a mobile.

Blog Posting Number: 820


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