The ‘First’ Apple Watch Is up for Auction | Seiko 1988 ‘WristMac’ Wearable

1988 WristMac with Apple Watch Credit: Pinot W. Ichwandardi / Twitter
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Even though the Apple Watch is an amazing device, it’s not really an original idea. Wrist-worn computing devices go back to at least the early calculator watches of the 1970s, and it looks like one watchmaker had an even more interesting idea for a smartwatch in the early days of the Macintosh.

In 1988, Seiko released the “WristMac,” a bleeding-edge device for the technology of the day that was actually capable of interfacing directly with a Macintosh computer.

It’s unclear if Apple had anything to do with the development of the WristMac directly, although it’s possible the company’s engineers at least provided some support. The WristMac communicated with a Macintosh using the company’s proprietary AppleTalk protocol, which was more commonly used to connect to printers and file servers. However, it was reasonably well-documented, so a third-party hardware maker wouldn’t have had too many problems getting it working.

Nonetheless, the WristMac was an ambitious device for its day, with the ability to store phone numbers, display scheduled alarms with specific text reminders, and even take notes that could be transferred back to the Macintosh and exported to a text file.

There’s not much information on how many WristMacs were even made, much less how many the company sold, but the wearable does have one interesting place in history — it was used by astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.

A 1991 New York Times article describes how several of the astronauts aboard the space shuttle wore Wristmac watches to display data from the Macintosh Portable on board that was used to send the first email from space.

As the space shuttle Atlantis passes overhead this week, several of the astronauts are wearing WristMac watches that can display data taken from an Apple Macintosh Portable computer that is on board. When it is time to snap photographs of a particular feature on Earth or in the cosmos, a Wristmac will sound an alarm and display a two-line individual chore reminder.

Peter H. Lewis, The New York Times

The orbiting Mac portable and accompanying WristMac models were among several other commercial products onboard Atlantis, which was undertaking a study to determine how normal computer systems could be used to address the challenges of computing in space.

Macintosh portable allowed for engineers and technicians to more easily find replacement parts or even swap the whole thing out in the event of an equipment failure. While researchers had decided to go with a graphical user interface for onboard systems, they also faced challenges with human interface devices like mice and trackballs in a zero-gravity environment.

The WristMac, however, was ideal as it could be easily worn by the crew members, unlike more traditional PDA-style organizers that would have to be strapped down or end up floating around the cabin.

It’s an interesting early precursor to the Apple Watch of today, which is also becoming pretty standard gear for spacefarers.

Up for Auction

The WristMac has come back into the spotlight as a result of an auction being run by ComicConnect, which has an original mint condition 1988 model up for bids that it’s calling “the first Apple Watch.”

Extremely rare 1988 Seiko/Ex Machina WristMac; first Apple Watch (released in 1988 – over 25 years before 2015’s Apple Watch!); One of the first pieces of wearable computing technology. This 1988 Wrist Mac comes in its original packaging and has never been sold in the over thirty years since its first release. The box advertises the revolutionary features of the watch, and contains the original sticker noting the Serial Number (70216).

ComicConnect Auction Listing

The packaging also includes the dock, reference manual, WristMac 1.2 software disk, and even the original product registration card, still blank.

As of this writing, the auction has about a dozen bids and has only reached $160. It will remain open until December 18. The rarity of the item means that it’s very hard to truly estimate what it might fetch. ComicConnect CEO Steven Fishler expects the final selling price to be in the $25,000—$50,000 range.

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