Time for Citizen watches to go high tech

First it was a telephone that became smaller and mobile, allowing users to send e-mail and play games in addition to making phone calls. Now watch makers are getting into the game, adding technologies to their products that allow users to communicate while on the move, find directions while hiking, and log on to their PCs.

At Citizen Watch Co. Ltd.’s Citizen Forum 21, held in Tokyo earlier this week, the company showcased several watch prototypes to show how far high-tech features have come.

Leading the charge is the second-generation WatchPad prototype. The WatchPad is a wearable wristwatch-shaped computer that is the result of cooperation between Citizen and IBM Corp., which had been working on the project since last year. Many of the features, such as wireless radio-wave transmission and sensors, have been incorporated in other prototypes unveiled by Citizen.

Another prototype, the Security Watch, is equipped with a fingerprint sensor. A fingerprint is scanned on the watch that can then be wirelessly transferred to a PC for authentication purposes, said Masatoshi Ochiai, a developer for Citizen.

The watch can also be used for entrance security. Instead of opening doors with a key, the user’s watch sends the fingerprint data to a radio-wave receiver attached to the door. The fingerprint data is verified through a database of registered fingerprints and, if the user’s fingerprint is recognized, the door will open.

The Travel Walker was developed for hikers. The prototype watch comes with a separate small device equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver. With area map information loaded on the GPS device, a user is able to see hiking directions displayed on the watch, which wirelessly receives data from a separate GPS device in a backpack, said Toshihide Ogasawara, a Citizen developer.

The Wrist Browser is a prototype that is trying to be a wearable secondary display for a cell phone. Citizen has made the watch water resistant, a feature cell phones don’t usually have. “So, when you are swimming and a phone in a bag rings, you can see it,” said Tomoko Sakai, a Citizen developer.

Users can also send preset messages from the watch, such as “Please hold. I will answer you shortly,” to inform callers that they are away from their cell phone, she said.

Unlike the Security Watch and Travel Walker, which feature Citizen’s own wireless radio-wave protocol, the Wrist Browser is equipped with Bluetooth, so that it will be compatible with Bluetooth-embedded phone handsets, Sakai said. “We are developing the watch with a few mobile telecommunication carriers,” she said.

All of these watch prototypes have the same development goals – to make batteries last longer and to reduce the size of the device, Citizen officials said. Commercial availability of these products will come soon after engineers achieve these goals, they said.

Citizen, in Tokyo, can be contacted at http://www.citizen.co.jp/.