This month in tech history: June 1998 – Seiko launched first smartwatch Credit: Caz' Pocket Computers Collection
Handheld Technology

This month in tech history: June 1998 – Seiko launched first smartwatch

10 June 1998: Seiko introduced the world’s first wearable PC watch, Ruputer

Manufacturers have been trying to persuade us we need smartwatches for some time. Nearly 20 years in fact. Many of us aren’t convinced by the modern versions, and it would seem the world’s first iteration didn’t fare much better.

Introduced by Seiko on 10th June 1998, the Ruputer was approximately two inches wide, one and 1/8 inches across, and 5/8 of an inch deep, with input via a tiny eight-direction joystick and six function buttons. You could also synchronise data from a full-sized PC using the included software. By today’s standards of course, the specs are… limited. But, hey, this was the 90s.

  • 16-bit, 3.6 MHz processor
  • Up to 4 MB of non-volatile storage (512KB, 2MB, or 4MB options available)
  • 128 KB of RAM
  • 102x64 monochrome LCD
  • battery life was around 30 hours (the watch would power down when not in use to extend battery life)

The watch also had a serial interface and an IR port for communicating with other devices, and was distributed with an SDK, which allowed for creation of new software written in the programming language C.

The Ruputer cost $285.

Repackaged by Matsucom for the US market, the successor to the Ruputer was the OnHand PC. This, available in clear or black and weighing in at about 52 grams, had a W-PS-DOS v 1.16 operating system and both an icon-based GUI and text based user interface.

  • 16-bit, 3.6 MHz processor
  • 2 MB of non-volatile storage
  • 128 KB of RAM
  • 128 KB of ROM
  • 102x64 STN 4-greyscale LCD
  • 38,400 bit/s serial port dock or the 9,600 infrared link
  • two Lithium CR2025 button cells with battery life of approx. 3 months

There’s a surprising amount of software available, including a program called HandySurf which allows the OnHand PC to synchronise internet content such as news topics, weather, and driving directions.

The OnHand PC was discontinued by Matsucom on April 7, 2006.

Sadly, the Ruputer failed to achieve widespread success, and is now relegated to ‘collectible’ status. Given the screen size and input manner, this is hardly surprising, but it was still ahead of its game, and can certainly be said to have paved the way to the current wearable craze. If you fancy getting your hands on a piece of tech history, the devices do occasionally pop up on eBay, though the price has gone up a bit.


Also read:
The watch industry shows no fear of Silicon Valley
Huawei’s CEO Eric Xu talks wearables, Cloud, AI, and more
After early hype, smartwatches slowly emerge with enterprise uses


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Kate Hoy

Kate Hoy is Editor of IDG Connect

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