It's strange to think that something once as ubiquitous as the wristwatch is now an endangered species, rendered unnecessary by the clock display on mobile phones. According to the consumer research firm Experian Simmons, just 42 million Americans bought a watch for themselves in 2011, down from 55 million in 2004 [source: Goetz]. In the UK, a recent study showed that 14 percent of the public -- and 28 percent of those between ages 15 and 24 -- saw no need for a timepiece around their wrist anymore [source: McFarlane].
So, faced with becoming little more than a dusty museum piece, perhaps it was inevitable that watches -- like phones, coffee makers, refrigerators, automobiles and even entire houses -- would become "smart," i.e., equipped with microprocessors, software and wireless connections that allow them to perform all sorts of functions beyond the one for which they originally were intended.
It's unclear who first came up with the idea of turning the watch into a tiny computer with communications and networking capabilities. In the late 1990s, Swiss watchmaker Swatch and Dutch electronics giant Phillips tested a watch equipped with a radio-frequency identification chip that enabled it to pay subway fares and ski-lift fees [source: Taggart]. One of the first multi-featured devices may have been a wristwatch-sized computer equipped with both a touchscreen and a microphone for voice-activated apps and communicating, developed by Chandra Narayanaswami of IBM back in 2000 [source: Eisenberg]. In 2003, watchmaker Fossil, Microsoft and handheld computer maker Palm teamed up to develop the SPOT (Smart Personal Objects Technology) watch, a device equipped to wirelessly receive stock quotes, send and receive instant messages and do other stuff that seemed utterly cool at the time [source: McHugh].
Since then, we've seen the advent of vastly more powerful, sophisticated smart watches. One of the newest, the $149 Sony SmartWatch, is designed to do a lot of the things you count on your smartphone to do, such as accessing your digital music collection and keeping you plugged in to social networks. Better yet, it can do those things without requiring you to reach into your pocket or dig through your purse -- which may be one big advantage that wristwatches still have over phones [source: Sony.com].