Modern Living: Going Digital

  • Share
  • Read Later

Last year technology put pocket calculators under the Christmas tree. This year's great space-age spin-off is the digital watch. Hailed by one effusive manufacturer as "probably the greatest breakthrough in timekeeping technology since the sundial," the solid-state, quartz-crystal "time calculator" displays the time (and, on the more expensive models, the month and date) with glowing numbers, rather than hands moving around a clock face. Digitals are expected to account for at least 5% of all watches sold in the U.S. in 1975—some 2.5 million—at prices ranging from $30 to more than $3,000. Acknowledged to be as accurate as any watch now available—losing or gaining only a minute a year—the digital comes in two basic models: the L.E.D. (for light-emitting diode) and the L.C.D. (liquid crystal display). On the L.E.D.s, the digits light up at the press of a button or, on some models, at the flick of the wrist. The L.C.D. provides a continuous display, but to be seen clearly it must be angled according to the available light.

Feeling of Power. Since most models are bulky, the watches so far have sold mainly to men. One reason for their appeal is the first-on-the-block-to-own-one syndrome, though this attraction will fade fast; digitals are expected to sell for as little as $20 in 1976. Another reason why some people like digitals, according to a watch-company executive, "is that it makes them feel powerful—at the push of a button, they can command the time." Says Manhattan-based Writer Jon Borgzinner: "I like it because when I pick it up at night I don't have to figure out from the dial if it's ten of six or two minutes before four; it simply tells me it's 4:14 or 9:53."

The next development in watches, a few Christmases hence, will be the nuclear timepiece, powered by a radioactive cell that will last 50 years. Until then, Pulsar, a pioneer digital manufacturer, has decided to more than make do with existing technology. It has put together what it calls the "personal information center"—a digital watch combined with a miniaturized calculator that enables the wearer to add, subtract, divide and multiply. It can calculate figures up to 999 billion, and has a memory bank. Pulsar will manufacture only a limited number of the solid-gold, 22-key calculator watches at $3,950 each. Next year the Pennsylvania-based company will market a stainless steel model priced at "under $600."