For decades, the world has had a guilty obsession with gadget watches. Ever since the days of Dick Tracy, we've fantasized about jamming phones, TVs, radios, computers and every other functional gadget into a small, wrist-friendly watch. Despite the rise of super-thin, portable smartphones and tablets, some people (and manufacturers) are still bent on finding the perfect smartwatch. Could the Neptune Pine be it?
Gadget watches are a sort of tragic victim of the pace of modern technology. Back in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s ... they looked like one of the coolest possible gizmos awaiting us in the technological utopia of the future. Then, before they ever really had a chance to materialize, they were obsoleted.
Smartphones can play music, show video and TV content, keep you on schedule and, of course, make phone calls. Everything we once dreamed would be available on a gadget watch is now available in a slightly larger, equally portable, more practical package. Do you really want to talk into your wrist or watch TV on a one-inch screen anymore? There are a number of actual phone and gadget watches out there, but none of them look as cool or useful as your average Android or iPhone.
Despite not having the same bright upside of 30 years ago, nostalgia and mankind's insatiable appetite for cool, quirky gadgetry has kept the dream of the smart watch alive. In fact, market research firm ABI Research predicted last month that wearable computing devices, which it describes as smart glasses and smart watches, are set to explode over the next year, with potential to become as commonplace as things like smartphones and MP3 players within five years.
The Pine watch could be one of the first devices that gets that trend rolling. This is the type of watch that gadget lovers have craved for generations. The Pine watch aims to do everything a smartphone can do from a small, wrist-based package that is easy to carry even if you're wearing nothing but a Speedo. It won't necessarily win you any GQ covers, but it doesn't look nearly as geeky as a computer watch could.
Montreal-based Neptune Computer calls the Pine the "world's first independent smart watch." Rather than pairing with an actual phone via Bluetooth, the way the Pebble and others do, it is designed to accept a micro-SIM card and essentially serve in place of a smartphone. According to its creators, the Pine will be able to make phone calls, send emails, play music and video, browse the internet and navigate with GPS. A built-in 5-megapixel Recondite camera will snap photos and shoot video, and it will also include a heart rate monitor, FM radio and digital compass. Neptune has also mentioned the possibility of adding waterproofing and near-field communications.
The Pine will support quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, 3G, 802.11 WiFi, and Bluetooth 4.0. It will run a modified version of Android 4.0 from behind a 2.5-inch capacitive touchscreen. Neptune confirmed on Twitter that the Pine will support all Android apps. To make typing possible, Neptune is designing a virtual QWERTY keyboard that it says will have the same key size as an iPhone, making typing more familiar than you might expect from a watch.
Just in case you start to miss your standard mobile phone, Neptune also plans to make the watch face removable from the strap. It will then function as a sort of mini-smartphone, as well as a smart watch.
Neptune announced the Pine in late January and says that it will release it in the U.S. and Canada during the late third quarter of this year. The suggested retail price is CA$335 (approx. US$325 as of publishing), and reservations are available now.
The specs lag behind today's smartphones a bit, but the watch's combination of multi-function, convenience and sheer cool factor seem to set it up for at least some success. It definitely has a better advertised feature set than the Pebble, and we've already seen how people lined up for that.
If Neptune can bring this thing to market as promised, and if its interface is as good as its spec sheet, we think it could have the first device that comes close to living up to decades of gadget-watch hype. Of course, given that Neptune was founded last year, the Pine is its first product and all it has to show so far are some renderings, there's a list of questions surrounding the future of the watch. And if Apple ends up announcing a smart watch between now and the late third quarter, the answers could be moot.