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Casio AT-550 Touch Screen Calculator Watch (1984)

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Published on May 24, 2012

The AT-550 was an incredible watch for its time, or even for today. It had a capacitive touch screen, and that was used to operate the built-in calculator. How it did so trumps even the fact that a watch released in 1984 had a touch screen, much less at a price of under $100. To enter numbers and the numerical operators, one just "wrote" them with a finger, by tracing the appropriate shape on the watches crystal.

Yes the recognizer was slow, and one had to draw the characters carefully. But this was 28 years ago - the same year that the first Macintosh was released, and the year that Mark Zuckerberg was born! That is, this watch did this over 18 Moores' Laws ago. That means, if the chip that did this existed today, it would have 262,144 (over a quarter of a million) times the computational power that it had then!

Now consider this: the technique used was such that one could enter numbers and operators eyes free. In today's age of texting and Tweeting, notice that that is something that you cannot do using any of the touch screens available on today's "smart" phones - at least that I am aware of.

And, by the way, note that in the same year, Casio also released another watch - also in my collection - the DB1000 Telememo 50, that not only used the touch screen to work with its calculator, but also to enter, edit, and retrieve up to 50 names and phone numbers from its data bank!

When confronted with today's touch-screen "smart" phones, instead of patting ourselves on the back for being so clever, what these wtches say to me is, "What the heck have we been doing for the past 28 years?

The past isn't just about quaint old stuff. It keeps us honest, informs future designs, and helps us set the bar at an appropriate level.

To learn more about this watch and other interesting devices from our history, see the Buxton Collection: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/u...

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