Tech Time Warp of the Week: The 1972 Digital Watch That Cost More Than a Car

On Monday Apple is expected to announce more details about the Apple Watch. It could be the product that finally brings wearable computing into the mainstream. But as far as high-tech watches go, it’s hardly the most ambitious.

In 1972, the Hamilton Watch Company announced the Pulsar Time Computer, billed as the first digital watch. In the video above you can see—and hear—how grand the company’s vision for the future of timekeeping was.

“Time. The endless river,” the ominous voice intones as a clock ticks in the background. “Transporting some. Engulfing others. A stream upon which information explodes, communications multiply, technology accelerates into ever new life.”

The “Time Computer” bit was mostly marketing hype. It didn’t double as a calculator or address book, or have any of the other bonus features that later digital watches would include. All the Pulsar watch did was tell time. But in an age when computers were still enormous, lumbering machines, the prospect of wearing anything that could be construed as a computer on your wrist was downright science fictional. And much as today’s watches tout sensors to monitor your heart rate or activity, the Pulsar boasted a light sensor that could adjust the brightness of the LEDs so that they looked the same to the eye regardless of the lighting conditions.

“That model sold for $2,100, which was more than a new Ford Pinto went for at the time,” journalist Harry McCracken wrote in a retrospective on early digital watches. A Pulsar even appeared on James Bond’s wrist in 1973’s Live and Let Die.

But that prestige didn’t last long. Technology companies soon flooded the market with new products. Back before Commodore International—the company behind the iconic Commodore 64 and Amiga computers—got into the PC business, it released its own LED watch in 1975:

Other computer companies, including HP, Intel, and Sinclar, also got in on the action. “In short, the 1970s watch business was a preview of the 1980s PC business,” McCracken observes. “For the first time, a bunch of electronics companies which had previously specialized in scientific equipment and business machines started learning about selling gadgets to consumers.”

Commodification doomed most of these efforts as a prices for digital watches went from thousands of dollars to just a few bucks in the late 1970s. Commodore, HP and the like soon moved on to the more lucrative and exciting PC market. But now, like the hour hand slowly ticking its way back to 12, the computer industry is returning to the watch businesses.

The 16 Coolest Gadgets We Saw at Mobile World Congress

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Samsung Galaxy S6. The most anticipated phone of the show is not an evolution of Samsung's previous Galaxy S5, but a brand new design. In fact, the S6 is made of aluminium instead of plastic, and its 5.1-inch display has the same 2560 x 1440 resolution of the Note 4. A super-crispy 16-megapixel camera completes the package. The S6 will ship in April. The price is rumored at $799. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. This second Samsung flagship is like the first one in every aspect but one: the screen curves around both left and right edges, adding exclusive interactions to the phone. Features like Notification Stream and People Edge let you interact with apps and communicate with your friends via touch shortcuts that appear on the edges of the screen. It'll ship in April, starting from a rumored price of $969. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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Sony Xperia M4 Aqua. No flagship from Sony this year. But the Xperia M4 Aqua squeezes a lot of the premium features from Sony's top-tier Xperia line into an affordable $300 handset. The Aqua has a 64-bit octa-core chipset, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of expandable storage packed inside an aluminium frame. And, like the big Xperias, it's dust and water resistant. Ships in April. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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Bluesmart. This "connected carry-on" has a built-in scale to weigh itself. The current weight is displayed on an app on your phone. A battery pack inside charges your devices while you travel. It also comes with a Telefonica SIM card to trace the bag on a map whenever you lose it. Pre-order one for $299. It ships later this year. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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HTC One M9. The third version of HTC's premier smartphone comes with a slightly smaller aluminium body than the previous two, with a particular two-tone finish made of gold and silver. HTC has ditched the "ultrapixel" camera on the back, picking a 20-megapixel sensor instead. The new One will be available mid-March at a rumored price of $829. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3. Whatever side you see when you fish this phone from your pocket, it'll be the correct one. Alcatel has designed its new phone to be reversible, so it works the same even when it's upside down. It has a symmetrical body with stereo speakers and two microphones, one on each end. It will come in April in two sizes. Unofficial pricing: $200 for the 4.7-inch version, and $250 for the 5.5-incher. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED


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HTC Re Vive. The most unexpected announcement of the show was HTC's virtual reality headset. Made in partnership with Valve, it will run on ValveVR. Two IR trackers and dozens of built-in sensors will allow players to roam freely around a 15x15-foot room. It also pairs with wireless controllers for interacting with virtual objects. No pricing was announced, but Re Vive will hit stores this year. (By the way, that's HTC's Jeffrey Gattis wearing the headset.) Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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Hauwei Talkband B2. This fitness-tracking wearable by the Chinese mobile giant has a slim and simple touchscreen. It can track movement, monitor sleep, and it pairs to both iOS and Android phones. Also, the main unit pops off the band and can be worn as an earpiece for taking phone calls. It will ship in April for around $200. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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Lenovo Vibe Shot. This is a hybrid between a smartphone and a point-and-shoot camera. The 16-megapixel low-light image sensor is complemented by a six-piece modular lens and an optical image stabilization system. It has a "Pro mode" that lets you set everything from ISO to white balance. The Vibe Shot will be available stateside in June for $350. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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Jolla Tablet. Named the best tablet of the Mobile World Congress 2015, the world's first crowdsourced slate is 8.3 millimeters thick and runs Jolla's independent Sailfish OS. It features a 7.85-inch IPS LCD display with 330 ppi resolution, 5-megapixel camera, Intel quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM and 32 to 64GB of internal storage. It ships later this year, pricing TBA. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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MyFC JAQ. This neat fuel-cell charger gives you power in any off-the-grid situation. Inside every card is a salt and water power cell. Electricity is instantly generated as soon as a cartridge is inserted into the rubberish charger sleeve. Each charge provides 2400mAh. And, it's FAA travel certified. The JAQ will ship in late 2015. 10 cards should cost around $10, while the pouch will be $99. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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LG Watch Urbane LTE. The fourth smartwatch made by LG isn't an Android Wear device, but runs WebOS instead. It is cellular-connected and comes with built-in microphone and speaker to make phone calls without needing a tethered phone. Along with the upcoming Apple Watch, it will be the only one to include NFC-based mobile payments. Pricing has yet to be announced, but will likely be well above $300. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED


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Gionee Elife S5.1. This super-slim smartphone is just 5.15 millimeters thick. It is made of glass and metal, with a 4.8-inch HD display, a 2050mAh battery, an octa-core processor, and 16GB of internal storage. It's weight is ridiculous: just 97.7 grams. Elife S5.1 retails in India at 19,000 INR, around $300. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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Nokia N1. Looks just like an iPad Mini, doesn't it? It's Nokia' latest tablet, an 7.9-inch Android device with an aluminum back and a 2048 x 1536 display. The N1 runs Lollipop augmented with Nokia's Z launcher software that helps organize apps and information on your homescreen. It's China-only right now, but maybe it'll show up elsewhere soon. The current price is around $250. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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Saygus v2. This Ohio-based company has packed more crazy specs into a single smartphone than any other device we've seen here in Barcelona. It has a 3100mAh battery, Kevlar case edges, and it's rated IPx7 waterproof. Above all, Saygu's V2 (V Squared) has dual microSD slots to expand the 64GB of internal storage up to 464GB. It ships later this spring. Pre-orders are $599. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

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ZTE SPro2 Smart Projector. This portable projector has 16GB of internal memory, so you don't have to plug in your smartphone to play your media. It also has three hours of battery life, so you will likely be able to watch a whole movie with it. Ships in summer, no rumor about the price. Maurizio Pesce/WIRED

Amazon Opens a Storefront on Archrival Alibaba’s Site

Amazon has been struggling to make inroads in China. Now it’s turned to the same venue as every other retailer hoping to reach Chinese shoppers online: its archrival Alibaba.

Amazon’s store, which quietly launched this week, resides on Alibaba’s Tmall platform—which is, as the name suggests, an online mall where brands from Apple to Adidas have virtual storefronts. The store has limited offerings so far. Product categories include women’s shoes, American-style snacks, and children’s toys from brands like Crayola, Lego, and Blue Diamond.

At the moment, Amazon still needs a lot of help to grab a piece of the enormous Chinese market.

The move might seem puzzling to Amazon’s US customers. After all, as a Tmall retailer, Amazon must pay Alibaba a commission whenever a customer buys anything from its store. But at the moment, Amazon still needs a lot of help to grab a piece of the enormous Chinese market. According to a November report from Beijing-based market consultancy outfit iResearch, Amazon’s four-year-old Chinese site accounted for just 1.3 percent of China’s business-to consumer sales transactions in the third quarter of 2014, ranking it a dismal eighth. Tmall claimed the top spot with 57.6 percent of sales transactions.

Alibaba, meanwhile, stands to benefit from the deal by gaining a credible retailer on its platform. Alibaba has faced aggressive scrutiny from Chinese authorities over counterfeit goods on its platform. Having Amazon on board gives Alibaba another credible, mainstream brand to burnish its reputation.

Notably, the opening of Amazon’s Alibaba store comes just as Alibaba announced its own significant move across the ocean with the opening of a data center in Silicon Valley to compete with Amazon in the cloud. So far, Alibaba hasn’t signaled any major plans to challenge Amazon’s online retail might in the US. But in this Pacific Rim rivalry, it’s hard to imagine that these two giants won’t end up clashing on every front.

This Week in TV: Bunnies in Utah Have a Weed Problem

We try our best every week to bring you the best of what you missed on late night TV, but if you think we left anything out … well, groupsie daisy!

Saturday Night Live—Say What You Wanna Say

Your snarky rejoinders in the comments section aren’t even five percent as funny as you think they are. Sorry, just sayin’ what we wanna say!

Conan—Conan Joins a Cuban Salsa Band

Conan O’Brien’s Cuban adventures are either going to be a miracle goodwill tour or ruin five more decades of international relations with the island. Let’s find out!

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver—Infrastructure

If America hasn’t turned into the movie 2012 by the time this video ends we’ve dodged a bullet.

Late Night With Seth Meyers—Seth Explains Teen Slang

As an aside, according to Urban Dictionary, Shirley is: “Very unique and she will help you with all your troubles! She is usually tall and always majestic and she needs a big man to hold her close! … Shirleys usually have had a ruff life but she will try to find the bright side of things.” So at least now we know who’s involved in all of these zeitgeist-touching interactions!

Saturday Night Live—Host Chris Hemsworth Attempts a Dirty Dancing Lift

First they put Kate McKinnon, the cast lesbian, with Chris Pratt (Star-Lord) for his promo reel. Now they’re putting her with Chris Hemsworth (Thor). Are all the straight girls in the cast just standing off camera fanning themselves and peeling their clothes off, or what?

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon—History of Duets with Kelly Clarkson

Kelly. Kelly!! The original American Idol has been a consistent Billboard presence for 12 years now, with 10 Top 10 Billboard hits, including three that reached Number One, and 12 more that broke the Top 100. The first of those three chart-toppers came out in 2003 (“A Moment Like This”), and the most recent came in 2011 (“Stronger”). Clarkson is an American pop treasure, and considering those pipes haven’t lost any of their power over time, she’ll probably keep releasing pleasing radio pop rock anthems until she’s damn well good and ready to drop the microphone. Keep singing, Kellz. We got you.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—Sigourney Weaver

Even if critics aren’t loving the new Neill Blomkamp movie Chappie, we’ll never stop loving you, Sigourney Weaver.

Jimmy Kimmel Live!—Talk To Your Rabbits About Marijuana

A bunny in a sink bath! A bunny in a SINK BATH!!

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon—Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer

Now for your regular installment of Better Know the Women of Broad City.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—Bibi’s Big Adventure

The weird political theater of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unapproved/unsanctioned/unwelcome/sort of uninvited (at least not by the White House) visit to the halls of Congress has a lot of people talking about “consequences” and “ramifications.” We’d rather just hear about it from Jon Stewart.

Our 10 Favorite New Cars at the Geneva Motor Show

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The Koenigsegg Regera (Swedish for "to reign") is equipped with a twin-turbo 5-liter V8 and something called a Direct Drive Transmission that means the car only has a single gear. And three electric motors that, when combined with the V8, generate an absurd 1,500 hp. Oh, and it goes from 0-248MPH in under 20 seconds. To reign, indeed. Newspress

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Bucking the forced induction trend, Porsche engineers have built a new 4-liter flat six (naturally) for the GT3 RS, which is also lighter and comes with more aerodynamic aids. And 493 horsepower. Equipped with a PDK transmission (manual transmissions are so 20th century), the car hits 60 mph in under 3.3 seconds. Newspress

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Audi has been leading the luxury pack on diesel cars (in the US at least), and has now taken it even further. The new Q7 e-tron is a diesel plug-in hybrid that can cover 35 miles on electric power alone, and an astounding 876.1 miles combined. Don't think the hybrid part makes it a slouch either: 516 lb-ft of torque get it moving from 0 to 60 mph in under 6 seconds. Newspress

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An all-electric, all-wheel drive GT concept, the Aston Martin DBX is designed to seat four adults and their luggage, and is chock full of fancy tech like auto-dimming "smart glass". Of course, the DBX is a long way from production, but if this is what the future of Aston looks like, sign us up. Aston Martin

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The Rolls-Royce Serenity is an absurdly lavish customization of the already absurdly lavish Phantom. It comes with the most expensive one-off paint ever made by Rolls. One-of-a-kind, hand-woven, hand-painted Chinese silk covers the interior, along with smoked cherrywood, bamboo, and inlaid mother of pearl. Pricing runs well over $1 million. Rolls-Royce

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The Ford Focus RS could be a worthy descendant to the Escort Cosworth. 315 horsepower from a 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine, along with an all-wheel drive system that can exceed 1g of lateral acceleration, means the thing will be a rocket ship. A special "drift" button that makes it easier to oversteer means it'll be fun as hell to drive, too. We're sold. Newspress


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At 21.3 feet long, the Mercedes-Maybach Pullman is gigantic. Pullman, once the only name in luxury train cars, began lending its name to ultra-swanky Mercedes cars in the 60s. Like the Pullman of old, the new version can seat up to four in the back, with unarmored models starting at a mere $500,000. Mercedes-Benz

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A multi-million dollar track-only supercar, the Aston Martin Vulcan's V12 engine was developed in conjunction with Aston Martin Racing. It's the ultimate development of the engine, incorporating everything the team has learned from its last decade of racing. An Aston rep says company "wanted a thoroughbred racing engine specifically for track use." Newspress

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The McLaren 675LT is the lightest series-production supercar the company has ever built. The twin-turbo V8 produces 666 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, along with an 220 pound reduction in weight over the 650S, thanks in part to carbon fiber seats and a thinner windshield. Only 500 will be built, so call your local McLaren dealer stat. Newspress

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Over ten years, Bugatti sold 450 Veyrons, with the final unit---a Grand Sport Vitesse "La Finale" edition"---displayed at Geneva. The Veyron is the apex of the old-school automobile, built without concession to the environment or those poor engineers. It was, perhaps, the greatest non-hybrid, gas-powered car ever built. We're excited to see what's next from Bugatti. Newspress