Watches That Compute Are the Next Small Thing in Technology

Article excerpt

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The watch may be making a comeback -- and it will do much more than just tell time.

As people have become equipped with smartphones, laptops and other digital devices with clocks, the importance of the wristwatch has diminished. But a bevy of smart-watches -- devices that aim to alert users to text messages and phone calls, and even monitor health -- are being rolled out in coming months by entrepreneurs who hope to create a 21st-century relevance for a centuries-old gadget, the timepiece.

"Today, we are not using time to synchronize ourselves," said Bill Geiser, CEO and co-founder of Meta Watch, a Dallas-based startup that just introduced Bluetooth-connected watches. "We have all forms of digital communication, text messages, proximity services, social networks."

This latest digital trend, like so many, has been helped along by Apple. Apple's postage stamp-size iPod Nano media player morphed into a watch for many users after the late Steve Jobs joked in September 2010 that one of the company's board members planned to wear it as a watch. Industry insiders saw the not-so-off-the-cuff remark as a glimpse of what the Cupertino, Calif., company views as a possible gadget in the future.

Almost overnight, a small industry of Nano wristband designers emerged to take advantage of a new application for an Apple product. When Apple gave the digital music player a refresh this fall, it did not change its form -- a first in the Nano's history -- and it included 18 different clock faces, including Minnie and Mickey Mouse, in addition to its other features, including photos and a built-in accelerometer for workouts.

"The Nano was a technological achievement Apple had created, but it didn't have a home," said Scott Wilson, a designer who created the popular Nano wristbands TikTok and LunaTik. "Then people saw it as an inexpensive (computer) watch."

While it's unclear what else Apple might have in mind for the wrist, a new industry is emerging to create new devices to help people to manage their increasingly data-driven lives.

"There is a need for people to get instant access to their critical information," said Tim Twerdahl, vice president of product marketing at Los Altos, Calif.-based WIMM Labs, which just released the WIMM One, a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi-enabled computer watch that is being licensed to major brands, from sports to luxury companies, that will create personalized devices. The 2-year-old startup received funding from Apple-product maker Foxconn in Taiwan.

Gadgets such as the WIMM One are not designed to replace smartphones and tablets, he said. Rather, they are digital sieves that enable users to sift through the clutter of apps, emails, text messages and phone messages they are bombarded with every day to quickly get the info they need immediately.

They will allow users to set up caller ID alerts from specific numbers, such as those of family members. …