It Might Be Time to Look at a New Watch


The incredible shrinking personal computer is not yet small enough to strap onto your wrist, but a couple of new products from two venerable watchmakers, Seiko and Timex, are pointing in that direction.

The Seiko MessageWatch, $80 to $120, not only provides absolutely accurate time, all the time, but also is a pager that can display telephone numbers, sports scores and stock market data.

The Timex Data Link watch, $130, comes with Microsoft software allowing you to program the watch from your computer screen. It can store appointments, telephone numbers, a to-do list and other data--and beep you with timely reminders.


All of this might be more than you want in a watch. But if you already carry a pager or a personal organizer such as a Sharp Wizard, these watches can help you reduce your electronic baggage.

The Seiko MessageWatch is an ingenious device that has only one major flaw: It is available only in Southern California, Seattle and Portland, Ore. Seiko does not yet have paging networks set up anywhere else, though it hopes to have most major cities around the world covered within a couple of years.

The stiffness of the watchband, which also serves as the pager antenna, is the only clue that this Seiko is not an ordinary watch. It contains a tiny FM radio receiver that scans the FM band for so-called sub-carrier signals bearing messages for that particular watch.

In Southern California, Seiko Communications of America Inc. has so far contracted with 11 radio stations to broadcast its pager signals. By early 1995, the watch should be able to pick up pages from Santa Barbara to Palm Springs to San Diego, with East Coast installations to begin next year.

The paging system gives the watch one rather spectacular feature: It automatically synchronizes itself every half-hour by radio signal with the U.S. Bureau of Standards atomic clock, so you always have the right time to the second. When the full paging system is in place nationally and worldwide, the watch will automatically set itself to the current local time as you fly from one city to another. A dual-time feature lets you keep a second time display constant.

The MessageWatch comes in three models, but all have the same internal electronics, built around what Seiko calls the Advanced Communications and Timekeeping Technology (ACTT) chip set. The watch can store up to eight messages, four of which can be saved as long as you wish. Seiko says you’re more likely to receive all your messages than you would with a standard pager because the system broadcasts each message four times over the whole network of FM stations they have contracted with to serve the area. The monthly paging service is $8.95, and for another $5 you can also have voice mail (you call your pager number to hear the messages).


There are three free information services included when you buy the watch--automatic time updating, and morning and evening weather forecasts. For $2.49 a month, you get daily Dow Jones, Standard & Poor’s 500 and New York gold closings; the prime interest rate, and lottery numbers. If you also want sports scores, the air pollution index and the ultraviolet exposure index, add another dollar.

Once you’re all rigged up for paging, you might still want a way to keep track of your appointments, so consider strapping the Timex Data Link watch onto your other wrist. The Timex has four data modes, which are controlled from entries you make in the Windows software that comes with the watch. The watch has enough memory for about 70 items.

The appointment mode stores the date, the time and a description of up to 15 characters. A tone will sound, and a reminder will appear on the watch face prior to the appointment. You control how many minutes before this should happen, but it must be the same for all messages.

In the anniversary mode, you store the dates, times and 15-character descriptions of annual events. An icon depicting a string tied to a finger reminds you of the events a specified interval ahead of time, and flashes to remind you again on the days of the events.

You can also use the watch as a phone book with the phone number mode, and there’s a to-do list mode, complete with five priority levels and a way to mark completed tasks.

Using the Windows Data Link software is quite easy. After you’ve entered the data on your PC, you push a button on the watch to put it into “comm mode,” then click on the appropriate button on the computer screen. You hold the watch face about six to 12 inches from the screen to receive the data.


The transfer is accomplished by a Timex-engineered system that causes thin bars of light to flash on the computer monitor. It will work with virtually any cathode ray tube monitor, but not with laptop liquid crystal display screens.

Is either watch the perfect answer? Probably not. Neither, for instance, has a timer or stopwatch. The Seiko has only one alarm, not five as the Timex does. And it lacks Timex’s wonderful Indiglo night lighting.

But the Timex time is only as accurate as the clock setting on my PC, because the software sets watch time to PC time when you transfer data. And with the Timex, I’d still have to carry a separate pager.

So here’s my strategy: I’m going to wear the Seiko while I’m in town and can receive pages. But when I travel, it’ll be the Timex loaded with my schedule and all the telephone numbers I need. At least that’s the compromise until Seiko can offer service in cities I visit.

Business Computing welcomes your comments but regrets that the author cannot respond individually. Write to Richard O’Reilly, Computer File, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, or message on the Internet.