Seiko Originals: The UC-2000, A Smartwatch from 1984
Imagine a smart watch, but from 1984. That sounds like something straight out of a scifi film since the 80s is not exactly known for great advances in personal computing. Well, it’s real, and it is exactly what Seiko created back in the day and was known as the UC-2000 - a “personal information processor” that you can wear on your wrist. As you would expect, it was a novel device that was released for $300, or almost $700 adjusted for inflation.
It looks like a computer and almost worked like one too, although it can’t technically be called a computer until you dock it on an external keyboard that adds actual computer-like functionalities.
For the gamers reading, this watch is obviously incapable of running Crysis. But what can it do and how did it come to be? Read on to find out.
Why Make a Wrist Computer
During the dawn of the computing age, western companies focused on making their hardware more powerful and more complex. This is how you got massive computers - it didn’t matter how big a computer became as long as it was more powerful than the last.
The Mac, before it was cool. Source: Apple Insider
On the other hand, Eastern companies, particularly Japanese ones, focused on making computers smaller and lighter while sacrificing functionality. This is how we got to the Seiko UC-2000: a watch with data entry, translation, and calculation functions that you can wear on your wrist.
The Seiko smart watch was undoubtedly state of the art technology when it was released, but was there even a demand for such a device?
Look at this marvel! Source: Hackaday
Seiko marketed it to people who already owned computers. Since you can’t bring your computer with you, this device can be your mini-computer for the day while you’re out and about, which can connect and transmit data to your home computer. It sold well for the first few months, but 2 years later and the UC-2000 was already in the bargain bin, with entire watch + dock bundles selling for 1/3rd of its original price.
The Retro Futuristic Look
The product came in 2 parts: the watch and the keyboard dock. Let’s look at the watch first.
A working unit, decades after release. Source: WorthPoint
For the 80s, it looks quite futuristic. The Seiko UC-2000 face is an LCD dot matrix display with a black bezel while the body is a metallic grey, matching the stainless steel bracelet. There are four buttons in its lower area colored orange on the outer ends and grey in the middle, replacing the crown as the adjustment mechanism. It looks incredibly similar to the smartwatches of today.
It almost looks like a toy. Source: Pinterest
Then there’s the UC-2100 keyboard which turned the watch into an actual computer. When the watch is mounted on the dock, it becomes this completely geeky looking machine which would have been the pièce de résistance in a tech collector’s display. It’s a QWERTY keyboard with extra buttons to change the language and access its different functions. On the left side is a square cutout where the watch sits and communicates with the keyboard through electromagnets. The on and off switch is also located at the front.
The keyboard is small enough to fit in the pocket, but not small enough that you can wear it on your wrist together with a watch. In fact it looks comically large if worn like this, but making the keyboard any smaller would have made it very hard to type on.
The watch serves as the monitor for this computer. Source: Techeblog
Need something with a little more power? There is also the UC-2200 dock which came with a spool-fed printer, just in case you needed something printed while on the go. How’s that for high-tech?
What Can it Do?
The watch tells the time and date, can function as a stopwatch, and also as an alarm clock like most other digital watches of its time. But when coupled with the UC-2100 keyboard, it becomes the “Wrist Information System” that can store memos, keep your appointments scheduled, and act like a calculator. You can save up to 2 memos of 1000 characters each, hence the UC-2000 model name.
How cool is a built-in printer? Source: Gtello
The UC-2200 keyboard has the same functionalities with a few extras. As mentioned before, it has a spool-fed printer for memo or data that you need on paper, literally. It also included removable ROM packs or cartridges that contained early PC programs. 1 ROM pack contained Microsoft BASIC which is the foundation software of the then fledgling Bill Gates company. Two other ROM packs came with games and an ENG-JAP translator.
For all the things it can do, this exciting piece of technology has a few setbacks that stopped it from being a must-have technology. The display is not particularly impressive, even though it was a relatively new LCD technology developed by Seiko subsidiary Epson. It can change the contrast brightness but it can still only display basic characters and not the more popular graphical interfaces at the time.
The screen is a 10x4 matrix display, and with such limited screen real estate, it was only usable for the watch functions but not so for the computer ones. While the UC-2000 apparently played video games, we can’t imagine how it would have looked like with such a tiny and colorless display.
You can play Tetris on it though. Source: Hackaday
Limited storage was also a factor to its failure. It can store 2000 characters in total for its memo function, less than 4 tweets. It may be useful for a short grocery list but not quite enough for any business-related applications. You would have to be incredibly succinct with your memos.
But while it may seem unwieldy to us in the 21st century, it was the advanced technology of its time, born from Seiko’s need to be at the forefront of new innovations, and Japan’s love for miniaturising anything and everything.
Fast Forward to Today
The UC-2000 and its siblings (yup, it wasn’t the first or last Seiko smartwatch) exists today as a vintage collector’s item for two niches: the Seiko collectors and the vintage tech enthusiasts. It seems that Seiko produced a good enough surplus that some shops still carry a small quantity of this smartwatch in mint and working condition today.
As for Seiko smartwatches that are actually useful in today’s day and age, there are not any made in the same form factor as the 1984 Wrist Information System. I guess they left that niche to Apple and Samsung while they focus on honing and improving their mechanical watches.
The beauty of mechanical with digital features. Source: The Go Out
That said, they did have a collaboration with Sony to create the Seiko x Sony Wena Wrist which is a Seiko mechanical watch with Sony smartwatch functions built-in on the bracelet’s clip. It allowed for digital payments and notifications but not really much else. Better to stick to the Apple watch if you want more than just novelty.
Do you Love Vintage?
If you’re fascinated with anything vintage, you might be interested in a watch that is brand new but looks like it came from the last century.
We’ve released 3 watch cases that look like they already stood the test of time and already patinated for your next vintage build. The first one is our SKX007 case with aged steel finish measuring 42mm, and comes with a matching bezel and crown. Pair this with an insert and dial with patina lume and you get a nice antique-looking build.
We also have 2 SRPE pilot cases with the same aged steel finish, one with a regular pilot bezel and the other with a coiled bezel and crown, also known as an onion case. This is another easy-to-build-with case that will help you create the old-timey watch for your patina collection.
While it can be argued that the UC-2000 was an unnecessary watch, you can’t really fault Seiko for wanting to do the not-yet-done-before watches. This same innovative spirit gave us the Seiko Tuna which is an amazing diver that solved many of the issues with the divers watches of its time, or the Seiko Quartz Astron which led to the quartz watch revolution that almost put the Swiss watch niche out of business. These sometimes genius and sometimes wacky watch designs all contribute to move horology forward.
In a similar vein, we at namokiMODS are always thinking of new parts to make available for the Seiko modding community to give our professional and hobbyist modders more choices to build their vision with. So if you haven’t already, join our newsletter, check out our socials, and stay tuned for our future watch part releases!