IBM, Citizen update WatchPad wearable computer

IBM Corp. is working hand-in-hand with Japanese watchmaker Citizen Watch Co. Ltd. on new prototypes of IBM's WatchPad wearable computer, the companies announced Thursday.

The WatchPad 1.5, a wristwatch-sized device measuring 65 by 46 by 16 millimeters and weighing 43 grams, runs Linux on a 32-bit ARM processor at a maximum speed of 74MHz. It has 8M bytes of DRAM and 16M bytes of flash memory, a speaker and a microphone.

It has a reflective monochrome LCD (liquid crystal display) QVGA screen, a fingerprint recognition device for security, and an acceleration sensor which detects the user's hand movements. It also has IrDA, RS232C and Bluetooth network interfaces. Version 1.1 of Bluetooth, the version used for the prototype, can be used for voice control, according to the companies.

The wristwatch computer works not only as a PDA (personal digital assistant) but as a controller for PCs, using Bluetooth.

IBM unveiled its first generation WatchPad 1.0 prototype in August last year, and has since exhibited it at a number of trade shows. While that device was too premature for commercial use, according to Yoichi Takao, director of IBM's research laboratory in Tokyo, "this one is technically ready," as a result of starting codeveloping the device with Citizen.

Reducing power consumption was key, according to Citizen. The battery now lasts for at least a day, while the processor speed is five times faster, the company said.

Citizen is devel developing the hardware for the Watchpad, while IBM works on the software, so the companies view development of the WatchPad from different perspectives. Citizen hopes to expand the abilities of what a wristwatch can do as a small PC, rather than adding a telecommunication function. IBM, on the other hand, expects the device will be used for browsing the Internet and sending e-mail, said Takao, adding, "(NTT DoCoMo Inc.'s third generation mobile phone service) Foma can download moving images, then why not for WatchPad. A telephone handset is inconvenient for users to view moving images but, on a wrist watch, it is easier."

The WatchPad 1.5 has been jointly developed at IBM's laboratories in Japan, the U.S. and Switzerland. Citizen is the only partner for the product, IBM's Takao said.

Although the device is technically ready, the companies need to further develop applications, and research business models, and have no fixed date for commercialization, Takao said.

"In the first quarter next year, we hope to start trials with Linux users at universities in Japan and the U.S., and to narrow our targeted customers," he said.

The price of the product is expected to be the same as that of IBM's latest WorkPad PDA, around US$399, the companies said.

The prototypes, in various designs, will be unveiled at Citizen Forum 21 in Tokyo next month.