Geekwatch
This is a pretty fun article for the wrist watch geeks like me. I picked up a seemingly end-of-linePalm PDA watch for less than $70 and started experimenting on what applications can actually run on it- here are some of my picks (all free/opensource) – and how I read websites, ebooks, play Infocom text adventures, draw/view pictures and use scientific calculators…I have a bit of a fetish for gadgety watches (video). Why waste the precious wrist real estate on something that can -just- tell time. Last week on MAKE I posted my HOW TO on getting RSS feeds to a Microsoft SPOT watch (Swatch, Fossil, Suunto and few others make these watches). I’m always on the look out for the uber geek watch- wireless SPOT watches for getting RSS feeds, TV watches from Japan, binary watches that tell time in, well, binary. So when Brian Jepson sent me a link to a sale on the Palm based PDA watch for $70 (about %50 less than it was a few months ago) and I had some Tiger credit voucher thing- I thought I’d see what I could do with a PDA on my wrist.

What is the Fossil / ABACUS Palm PDA watch?
I’ve been following the Palm OS watch for years, back in 2002 (2002!) Fossil announced the Palm PDA watch, it won a Best of Comdex award at the time too – Link. Years later after reported production problems it finally started to ship this year, January 2005.

And here it is…

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Features Diagram

I’ve got to hand in to Fossil, I’ve bought all their weird techy watches, they never seem to sell these, but they keep trying. The “PIM” watch, that wasn’t really a PDA, it could get beams from Palms/Pocket PCs, then there was the Fossil SPOT watches (and their ABACUS sub-brand) too. I have/had both of those too. I wish Fossil would send me an email just once before they sink a ton of cash in to the next techy watch- there’s a market, but I think they’ve missed it over and over again (some of it isn’t their fault).

Any way, the Fossil / ABACUS Palm PDA watch- it’s a Palm OS based watch, here are the specs:

  • Palm OS® 4.1
  • Motorola Dragonball™ Super VZ 66MHz
  • 8MB (RAM), 4MB (Flash) (approximately 7.7MB RAM available)
  • 160 x 160 pixels
  • 16 level grayscale
  • EL backlight
  • Touch Screen
  • Address Book
  • Date Book
  • To Do List
  • Memo Pad
  • Calculator
  • Time
  • Will run most Palm OS® applications (We recommend you use applications designed to take advantage of the special features of the Wrist PDA® such as the Rocker Switch and the larger font sets.)
  • USB
  • IRDA (v1.2a) (communicates with all Palm OS® devices)
  • Battery- Approx. 3-4 days (Based on an average use of 30 minutes per day, with no backlight or IR. The battery life varies depending on the temperature and conditions of use.)

Sure, they seem paltry now, but I remember how great this was in the late 90’s.

Lower cost ABACUS…
Fossil makes their own branded WristPDA watch, and their sub-brand ABACUS also has them- there really isn’t a difference, other some slight design differences, and the price. I think the total damage for this purchase for me was under $50, which is pretty reasonable, more so since I’m using it a lot now. The price at launch was $249 for the Fossil and $199 for the ABACUS.

What can you do with a Palm watch?
After I ordered the watch, it showed up a week or so later (free shipping) and it was as expected, a watch with the Palm OS on it. What I wanted to do was put some applications and information I couldn’t get on my SPOT watch and that’s exactly what I did (here’s how and what I got running).

Oh- not all applications work on the Palm watch, there are some apps that just do not work, I tired a lot (5.0+ of course and apps that don’t run on the small screen size).

Standard Palm apps
I don’t use the Palm OS really, but it’s pretty simple to get any data to and from the Palm watch via the Palm desktop- the included applications are: Address Book, Date Book, Memo Pad, Calculator and To Do List. I tend to put quick notes, address and travel information on the watch this way, sure it’s on my laptop or phone too. So if you use a Palm, like a TREO, it might be a good companion for your data.

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Getting the apps on to the watch is simple, the Palm install tool will send them over, and since the watch is USB you can sync / charge at the same tip. I use a tiny Ziplinq (USB to USB mini) with the WristPDA.

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One downside, the entry is a little tough, it comes with a tiny stylus that slides into the watch, but I think a lot of people will find it frustrating unless they’re watch geeks.

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Scientific calculator
I used to have a really nice calculator watch from the 70’s but, I can’t seem to find it, so one of the first applications downloaded and successfully tested was SciCalc.

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You can keep whatever application you want on all time, even after the watch normally times out to “watch mode” by going to Prefs > WristPDA and choose mode > Current. This will keep your application on screen at all times.

Drawing pictures
I like to doodle and when a quick note is needed, jot/graffit just doesn’t cut it- Pen Pen Col is a great freeware app that works perfectly on the WristPDA.

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Metro
If you travel, here’s a great little app to have handy.

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Métro computes the shortest route between two subway stations in more than 300 cities around the world (Paris, New York, London, Tokyo, any city with a subway & more!). FREE, FAST & ACCURATE. Link.

Text Adventures
You’re at the edge of a stream… I really like those old text adventure games, and now I can play them while I’m bored in line at the grocery store while the 3rd price check hits. The app Frobnitz runs perfectly on the WristPDA and comes with Colossal Cave Adventure. You can convert other adventures with the included converter, and it’s all free.

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Frobnitz is a Z-Machine interpreter that runs on PalmOS. What’s a Z-Machine, you ask? It’s the virtual machine developed by Infocom for its text adventures, also known as “interactive fiction”. Infocom has long since passed on, but the Z-Machine format has since been adopted for the authoring of interactive fiction by others. Link.

Images, Ebooks, RSS, websites and more
I wanted to put some MAKE images on my watch, so while there are a few different image viewers for Palm OS, I could find a good free one. So I went with Plucker and a tool called PDAconverter that converts all the graphics and can be viewed in Plucker.

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There are a few ways to get images, web sites and text on any Palm OS PDA- but here’s the ones I used…

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PDAConverter is a free tool that was pretty simple and worked well- drag and drop an image or add a URL and it packages up the data to the Plucker format for syncing later.

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Added Digg, a great community driven tech news site.

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Hit Plucker, and that was it. On the next sync, the top dig news for the day was on my watch.

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Another tool is Jpluck X, this can also convert feeds to Plucker.

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Add a site.

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You can configure it to grab more than the top page, but with only 7mb of storage, be careful.

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BoingBoing on my watch.

I also added the latest cover from MAKE volume 03 on my watch.

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And lastly, it goes without saying- one of Cory Doctorow’s novels, it’s my default test for a text reading device.

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Other text readers…
TiBR and iSilo are also other readers for the Palm OS, that are reported to work fine, I’m happy with Plucker, so I stuck with that.

Developing for the Fossil Wrist PDA?
Fossil still has the SDK for if you’re interested in developing for the watch, there are couple apps I might make, so here’s where to get the SDK. It also comes with a neat emulator.

SPOT vs WristPDA?
Since there is a small group of people who have SPOT watches, you be asking if I’m going to ditch mine…right now, no- but I do like having the new ability to read lots of text at all times on my wrist, so who knows. If i can get my phone talking via IR to the watch, then I can sync all the time via Avantgo and get my RSS feeds- then I’d like go full time with the WristPDA.

Other PDA watches?
One PDA watch that I haven’t tried out yet, but will, eventually is the PC on Hand watch. Here’s a comparison guide between the WristPDA and it.

That’s about it- as I tinker with this watch more, I’ll post up about it- ideally, I’ll get IR modem going and be able to IRC shortly.