An impressive calculator-watch, codenamed Cricket, was awarded the vaunted HP-01 model number. R&D VP Barney Oliver quipped, “I knew it wasn’t going to work when we started talking about it as fine jewelry.”[i] The electronic watch business actually became a feeding frenzy in Silicon Valley for a period, with over 100 entrants. The first casualty was the Swiss watch industry; the second would be the multiple players in the Valley. Most vendors concentrated on accurate time, but since even the $5 entries kept better time than any watch in history, that edge soon was superfluous. HP focused, as with the HP 65, on extraordinary functionality for a hefty price – $695. Even the title on the HP Journal article seemed breathless – “Wrist Instrument Opens New Dimension in Personal Information...it's a digital electronic wristwatch, a personal calculator, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a timer, and a 200-year calendar, and its functions can interact to produce previously unavailable results.”[ii]
Reading the Journal article gives pause – c.f. the Calendar function description: The calendar function provides the month, day, and year, but it is often desirable to know the day of the week also. A function has been implemented to provide this information. With any date in the display, pressing the prefix key (Δ) and the colon key (:) converts the date to a decimal display from one through seven, indicating the day of the week (Monday is one, Tuesday is two, and so on). Attempting to perform this function on time or decimal information will cause an error indication. Sometimes it is also useful to know the day of the year [how many times have you needed that knowledge recently?]. With a date in the display, this function is accessed by pressing the prefix key (Δ) and the slash key (/).... In computations involving time, it is often necessary to convert from hours, minutes, and seconds to decimal hours. This is done by the key sequence Δ ÷. [iii]
What, in God’s name, had gone wrong? How could the division caught in a dogfight for years with Texas Instruments, learning to stock the shelves at Macy’s, produce such an esoteric device? Worse, the article announces “The HP-01 is the first of a new generation of wrist instruments.” It would also be the last. One might be grateful that they never produced the wrist spectrum analyzer or the wrist gas chromatograph....
[i] Over 100 companies entered the “semiconductor watch” business in one year’s time; virtually all failed. TI enjoyed the most success for awhile, with predatory pricing akin to the calculator business. Intel famously failed with their Microma line. Cricket suffered from three fundamental flaws – the keys, accessed via a sideboard stylus, were hopelessly small for aging fingers; the watch was much too large and heavy for comfortable wearing (a common joke was that you could tell who was wearing one by the extra length of their left arm); and the price was extraordinarily high. Barney’s quote is from a conversation with him when Chuck House became Corporate Engineering Director in April 1982.
[ii] HP Journal (29:4), Dec,1977, Cover: The multifaceted HP-01 Wrist Instrument; Andre F. Marion, Edward A. Heinsen, Robert Chin, Bennie E. Helmso, “Wrist Instrument Opens New Dimension in Personal Information...it's a digital electronic wristwatch, a personal calculator, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a timer, and a 200-year calendar, and its functions can interact to produce previously unavailable results,” pp. 2-10.
[iii] HP Journal, Ibid, p. 7.