From Dick Tracy to Your Wrist

Before the advent of cellphones, high-tech wristwatches with near-magical functions were often portrayed as the devices of the future. Many of these gadgets now exist, including the equivalent of Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio, but because of a combination of high prices and tiny displays, they have never caught on as communication devices. Some consumers, however, are starting to show renewed interest in high-tech wristwatches, not as stand-alone devices, but as additional displays to work in conjunction with cellphones and Bluetooth headsets.

I first saw one of these watches a couple of years ago, when a friend looked at his wrist before tapping his headset to answer the phone. He later showed me how he used his watch to check caller ID so he didn’t have to take his phone out of his pocket. The watch also could display text messages and e-mails, but the display was too small to read them easily. I immediately wanted one anyway, and was disappointed to learn it wouldn’t work with my iPhone.

A current version of that watch, the Abacus MobileWear (, is available but still won’t work with an iPhone. Allerta, though, will be introducing a watch later this year called the Pebble ( that has a full-face display and will be iPhone compatible. The Pebble also will use apps to allow additional features, such as music-player controls, a bicycle odometer or a golf range-finder—in addition to the built-in text alerts for caller ID, short message service (SMS), e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.

The Pebble was one of the most successful projects ever launched through the startup-funding site The massive success of its launch appears to have motivated other companies to create their own watches, such as the Cookoo (, which uses a simplified interface with icons but no text display (and, presumably, will sell for less money).

In 1964, Dick Tracy upgraded from his wrist radio to a wrist TV. So far, though, no company has created a watch capable of video conferencing—although the technology exists. Given recent developments, however, the comic-based innovation might soon become part of our real life.