After years of rumors, in September of 2014, the Apple Watch was officially revealed and while it was Apple’s first in-house digital wearable, 26 years earlier Seiko’s WristMac could actually be considered the first true Apple Watch. It was a digital watch that was years ahead of its time with capabilities that earned it a ride on the Space Shuttle, and one is now up for auction.
When one thinks about feature-packed digital watches, brands like Timex and Casio come to mind as both companies popularized designs with complicated chronographs and calculators strapped to users’ wrists. But when it came to truly pushing the boundaries of what wearables were capable of in the ‘80s, Seiko was leaps and bounds ahead of everyone. The company was among the first to include dot-matrix LCD screens on its digital watches allowing them to display full alphanumeric characters, and in addition to connectivity to desktop computers, some Seiko models were even compatible with tiny portable keyboards facilitating data entry on the go.
Released in 1985, the Seiko RC-4000, also known as the PC Datagraph, was one of the most advanced computer watches Seiko ever released, and it synced with the most popular desktop devices of the time, including the IBM PC, the Commodore 64, and even the Apple II line. But three years later, and four years after the debut of the revolutionary Apple Macintosh, the Seiko RC-4000 was updated to become the RC-4500—aka the WristMac—and included custom software allowing it to sync with Mac computers through a cabled serial port connection and a feature called AppleTalk that made it much easier to network computers and peripherals at the time.
Compared to what the Apple Watch can do when paired with an iPhone, the Seiko WristMac was laughably primitive, with basic data storage (you had to enter data one character at a time by scrolling through the alphabet) but it allowed information about calendar appointments and phone numbers to be synced and transferred from a computer. It was ahead of its time, however, so much so that Nasa sent modified WristMac units on the ninth Space Shuttle Atlantis mission to help facilitate the first email sent from space.
The WristMac isn’t the rarest watch to ever go up for auction. But through ComicConnect, nostalgic fans of early watch-based computing have a couple of hours left to bid on one that comes in its original box with all its original paperwork (manuals, registration card, tutorials), a floppy disk containing the required Macintosh software, the serial cable, and a dock. According to the ComicConnect website, there are currently no bids on the wearable and a starting bid of just $1, so it could be a cheap way to add another milestone in mobile computing to a collection—assuming all the bids don’t drop at the last second.