6 wearable gadgets that were ahead of their time (and not long for this world)

Wearable technology might seem like a distinctly 21st century innovation, but we’ve been augmenting ourselves with tech long before Google dreamed up Android Wear.

You could apply the broadest definition of wearable technology to technology dating all the way back to the 17th century, when humans first starting wearing time-keeping objects. We get a tad closer to our current parameters around the early 1800s, when spring-controlled pocket watches first began appearing on the scene.

The thing looks like Google Glass, if it had been designed by your eight-year-old nephew.

Around the 1920s, digital mechanical pocket watches began appearing, and about half a century later, the world was introduced to the Pulsar watch, the first entirely electronic wristwatch with a digital display. Anyone over the age of 25 will likely have at least some faint memory of the strangely exciting run of calculator watches, kicked off by Casio in the mid-80s. And there’s the Sony Walkman, which, given the right parameters could be considered the first real runaway success in the world of wearable technology, with 385 million units sold worldwide at last count.

But not every piece of archaic wearable tech went over like a pocket watch or Walkman. Along the way, there were also some real duds — products that certainly had their heart in the right place, but weren’t long for this world, due to price, poor implementation, unpolished technology, bad marketing or some combination thereof. Fortunately, we still remember them.

Hewlett-Packard HP-01, 1977

This one’s been making the rounds quite a bit lately, thanks to HP recently announcing a new luxury smart watch, to sell through online retailer Gilt. The tech-blogging community was more than happy to point out that the product wouldn’t be the company’s first dip in the smartwatch waters —because, really, what’s smarter than a calculator? The aptly named HP-01 debuted the same year as Elvis Costello and Fantasy Island. In addition to being the world’s most fashionable tip calculator, the HP-01’s concave buttons required a stylus before they were cool, uncool and then cool again. And with a price of between $2,500 to $3,300 in today’s money, it was the perfect way to calculate how little money you had left in your bank account after the extravagant purchase. While the product was discontinued by the end of the decade, we’re glad to see HP getting back on that horse. If the company’s still looking for the perfect name, might we suggest the HP-02?

Keith Taft’s George Blackjack Shoe Computer, 1972

All right, so this one’s a bit of a cheat, but honestly, it’s too good not to mention. The lengths at to which Keith Taft went to in order to gain a competitive advantage is the stuff of legend, building an extremely early example of a networked microcomputer he fit in a pair of modified shoes to help him count cards. The device, affectionately named “George” was fairly massive by today’s standards at 15 pounds, but there’s something to be said for applying the same sort of single-focused drive that got us to the moon to something like blackjack.

Seiko TV Watch, 1982

Seiko’s simply named TV Watch certainly didn’t fail from lack of hype. The wrist-worn device popped up in the 1983 Bond flick Octopus and secured a spot in the following year’s Guinness Book of World Records under the “world’s smallest TV”category. The promise of an early 80s wrist TV was, naturally, too good to be true on a number of accounts. For starters, the watch needed to be to tethered to a receiver several times its size, meant to be carried in a shirt pocket. Then there’s the price —around $1,331 in today’s dollars. But hey, you also got AM/FM radio for that price. Bond-verse and eBay aside, the TV Watch ultimately never made it outside of Japan.

Reflection Technology Private Eye, 1989

Released in 1989, the Private Eye offered a computer monitor away from the prying eyes of others by mounting a bulky 1.25-inch monochrome screen to a pair of glasses. The device promised to deliver a similar experience to that of looking at a 15-inch monitor at 18-inches away —and a little added neck strain, no doubt. The product’s display would ultimately find some popularity with universities and hackers, who adapted the product to their own needs.

Xybernaut Poma, 2002

Named Wearable Internet Appliance when Hitachi first unveiled the product in 2001, this head-worn device debuted in the US with the decidedly less dishwasher-like name Poma. Granted, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect, the thing looks like Google Glass, if it had been designed by your eight-year-old nephew. Designed to work with Microsoft products like Word, Outlook and IE, the $1,500 Windows CE-running device was large, unwieldy and came with a bunch of tethered peripherals.

MSN Direct Smart Watches, 2004

You know we’re getting closer to the current batch of devices once the term “smart watches”is bandied about. When Microsoft’s MSN Direct Smart Watches were first unveiled at CES 2004, there was plenty to be excited about in those heady pre-iPhone days. They synced emails, delivered news, sports, weather and such through SPOT FM technology, and charged up wirelessly. Sadly, the SPOT got off to a bumpy start, and was soon be eclipsed by cellular broadband. Microsoft ultimately discontinued the line in 2008 and shut down SPOT altogether in 2011.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Mobile

The world’s first smartglasses showrooms open in Brooklyn and Toronto

Canadian startup North is hoping smartglasses will be the next big wearable. After announcing its new Focals smartglasses in October, the company opened product showrooms in Brooklyn and Toronto.
Photography

Get your Sagan on with 60 awe-inspiring photos of the final frontier

Few things instill a sense of wonder quite like the final frontier. The best space photos show off the beauty of Earth, our solar system, and the far corners of the universe. Here are our current favorites.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Smart Home

Google Home Hub vs. Amazon Echo Show

The Google Home Hub vs. Amazon Echo Show: which is better? Both are smart displays that control your smart home, but that's where the similarities end. We compare design, features, price and more to find out which is right for you.
Home Theater

The seven best TVs you can buy right now, from budget to big screen

Looking for a new television? In an oversaturated market, buying power is at an all-time high, but you'll need to cut through the rough to find a diamond. We're here to help with our picks for the best TVs of 2018.
Deals

Here are the best Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa deals for Black Friday

Apple products are the most sought-after products for Black Friday, the leaked preview ads show what discounts retailers will have for the Apple Watch Series 3 and other smartwatches, such as the Fitbit Versa, this holiday season.
Photography

Get up close and personal with this telephoto lens for your phone

Moment is replacing its aging 60mm telephoto lens with a new 58mm tele lens, redesigned from the ground up for the latest iPhone, Pixel, and Galaxy phones. Mount it onto the phone via a case and get closer with 2x optical zoom.
Mobile

Master your new Nokia 7.1 with our favorite tips and tricks

At $350, the Nokia 7.1 is a nearly perfect budget phone. It has a gorgeous body, good hardware, and a capable camera. Recently purchased the Nokia 7.1? Here are a few of our favorite tips and tricks to get you started with your new phone.
Mobile

Samsung Galaxy S10 could nix the notch in favor of a "punch hole" cutout

While we still may be months away from an announcement, there's no doubt about it: Samsung is working hard on its successor to the Galaxy S9. Here's everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10.
Wearables

Check out 25 of the best Wear OS apps for your smartwatch

Looking for some ways to spruce up that new Android smartwatch of yours? Here are the best Wear OS apps to download and use with any Android smartwatch, including a few specially enhanced for Wear OS 2.0.
Mobile

Android will finally get a faster sharing menu, but it might take a while

The Android sharing menu has gotten a whole lot better over the years, but it's also gotten slower. Thankfully, however, it seems as though Google is working on a better, faster sharing menu but, unfortunately, it may take a while.
Mobile

The best iPhone XR cases to keep your phone shiny and new

Apple's new iPhone range is the toast of 2018, with beautiful style and more power than you can shake a stick at. But beauty can often be fragile -- keep the damage to a minimum with the best iPhone XR cases.
Computing

A dead pixel doesn't mean a dead display. Here's how to repair it

Dead pixel got you down? We don't blame you. Check out our guide on how to fix a dead pixel and save yourself that costly screen replacement, or an unwanted trip to your local repair shop.
Mobile

The 100 best Android apps turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

Choosing which apps to download is tricky, especially given how enormous and cluttered the Google Play Store has become. We rounded up 100 of the best Android apps and divided them neatly, with each suited for a different occasion.