The Real Creator of the Apple Watch Wasn’t Steve Jobs, It Was Uncle Sam

Welcome to the future — 1946 is here! Sixty-nine years after its debut on Dick Tracy’s arm, Apple has finally given us our “two-way wrist radio” in the guise of the Apple watch. Not to be outdone, Samsung recently released a teaser video of its own version of a smart watch. I eagerly await revolutionary advances in crime fighting (which, I’ve come to accept, are far more likely than a watch making me lose weight.)

What took so long? Clearly the problem wasn’t a lack of ideas. All of the components for the wrist radio — and even Dick Tracy’s later “two-way wrist TV” — not only existed in 1946, but were in widespread acceptance. Sure, building a wrist radio without transistors would have been difficult, but Bell Labs gave us those in 1947. So the idea was there. The components were there. What was missing?

The answer is research and lots of it, much underwritten by the federal government. The original transistor was certainly impressive, but it was also gigantic (half the size of the Apple Watch!) and way too slow for radio frequencies. Transforming the original transistor into the devices that adorn the Apple Watch didn’t require one advance, or ten advances, or even a hundred advances — it took decades of effort by thousands of scientists and engineers in academic and industrial labs across the U.S. Every aspect of the transistor, from the material it was made of to the way it was wired, had to be tweaked, refined, and tweaked again.

Teleporting state-of-the-art transistors back to 1946 wouldn’t have helped Dick Tracy. There was also the problem of power. Sure, we had batteries back in 1946, even rechargeable batteries. But they were heavy and full of acid. Poor Dick wouldn’t have been able to lift his —> Read More