The Resurgence of Digital: A Look at Modern Smartwatches Vs. Vintage Digital Watches

By Adam Torkildson Adam Torkildson has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on August 31, 2023

The transition from analog to digital watches marked a substantial change in time reading and our interaction with technology, symbolizing a forward-looking society in the 1970s-80s. Modern watches have further evolved, incorporating various features from timekeeping to health monitoring. 

The Beginning of Digital Watches

Before the popularization of touchscreens and smartwatches, there was a transformative time marked by the emergence of digital watches, which represented a key change in the way people viewed and used watches.

First Digital Watches

The digital watch emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Unlike their today’s versions, they were exclusively designed for displaying time. In 1972, the Hamilton Watch Company’s Pulsar introduced the first electronic digital watch, which was notable for its red LED display.

Cultural Impact in the 1970s-80s

Digital watches transitioned from basic tools to modern cultural symbols. With the analog-to-digital shift, they became famous in media and among influencers. Well-known brands at the time broadened their reach, while features like calculators and alarms boosted their utility and appeal.

Vintage Digital Era

It was more than just a phase of technological progress; it symbolized a global shift to the digital age. Timepieces with illuminated digits and alarms became standard, reflecting a society that was moving to a technology-driven future.

The Smartwatch Revolution

As the 2000s began, the rapid technological advancements ignited a new era of innovation in wristwear. Digital watches were on the brink of evolving into the smartwatch age. The journey to modern smartwatches commenced with efforts to add PDA functions to wrist devices in the early 2000s. Microsoft tried this with products like the SPOT watch. Though these watches provided updates on news and stocks, they were bulky and lacked appeal.

Apple Watch and Samsung Gear

Apple and Samsung played pivotal role in defining the era of smartwatches. Apple set standards with the 2015 Apple Watch that merged aesthetics and functionality, offering a wide range of apps and iPhone connectivity.

Samsung’s Gear series also stood out in the Android market with features like a rotating bezel. Following these industry giants, many brands emerged across the globe, such as Wick Watches, that stood out for their unique blend of appealing designs and the latest technologies.

As time went by, companies transformed smartwatches from mere mini-computers to vital lifestyle accessories as they added features like health tracking and contactless payments. At presentl, smartwatches impeccably integrate fashion and tech.

Vintage Digital Vs. Modern Smartwatches

Reflecting on watch history reveals great differences between vintage digital watches and current smartwatches. These contrasts highlight the immense technological and cultural shift over a relatively short time.

Display Types and Evolution

Vintage digital watches mainly used power-intensive LED displays, requiring users to press a button to view the time and conserve energy. Later, LCDs got popularity because of their energy efficiency. Contrastingly, contemporary smartwatches employ OLED displays, which deliver vibrant colors and energy-saving benefits.

Basic Timekeeping to Multifunctional Tools

While vintage digital watches introduced functionalities like alarms and stopwatches, today’s smartwatches have expanded capabilities, offering features like heart rate and sleep tracking, GPS, email management, and voice controls.

Aesthetic and Design 

Early digital watches focused on utility and largely had uniform designs. Current ones showcase a diversity of designs, from simple to luxury. Collaborations with fashion brands and customizable components let users personalize their timepieces.

Price and Accessibility

Digital watches, especially LED variants, were seen as luxury items. As technology advanced, they became more accessible. So, modern ones vary widely in price; leading brands offer high-end models, but there are also cost-effective choices for people with a tight budget.

As we compare these two periods, we can see a transformation in watchmaking. What began as an innovative way to tell time has turned out to be an essential tool in our existence today.

The Tech Behind

Watches have evolved from traditional mechanical devices to contemporary digital powerhouses, with this transformation being propelled by significant technological developments. This shift offers a glimpse into the intricacies of modern watchmaking technology.


Often called chips, they have evolved digital watches from simple time-tellers to advanced wearable devices. Advancements in technology has allowed them to feature alarms, calculators, fitness tracking, and contactless payments.


Modern smartwatches need memory for data storage and application execution. They come equipped with two kinds of memory:

  1. RAM (Random Access Memory): This acts as the watch’s short-term memory, temporarily holding data from active applications, allowing for efficient multitasking and rapid data retrieval.
  2. Storage Memory: This is the watch’s long-term memory, used to save apps, music, and other data.

From Time-Tellers to Health Monitors

With advancements, manufacturers began adding sensors, enhancing the health and fitness features. Starting with basic functionalities like step counting and calorie tracking, modern watches now boast an extensive spectrum of health-monitoring tools.

Key Sensors

  • Accelerometers and gyroscopes in watches track orientation and movement, helping measure steps, distance, and sleep.
  • Heart rate sensors estimate blood flow in the wrist, offering reasonably precise heart rate readings.
  • GPS determines the wearer’s location, which is essential for mapping running or cycling paths.
  • Barometers and altimeters gauge atmospheric pressure and height, which is beneficial for activities like hiking.
  • Blood oxygen sensors, using infrared light, evaluate the oxygen levels in the blood, providing insights into overall health and fitness. 

Beyond fitness, these sensors have elevated watches to wellness tools, tracking various health metrics and even foreseeing health issues like irregular heartbeats.

Operating Systems (OS)

Like other smart devices, smartwatches require an OS to oversee applications, interfaces, and functionalities.

Proprietary OS

Big brands like Apple and Samsung use their proprietary operating systems, such as watchOS and Tizen OS. These systems:

  • Are tailored for the brand’s devices, ensuring efficient performance and longer battery life.
  • Allow makers to control available apps and changes, offering a stable and safe user experience but possibly restricting customization.
  • Often integrate best within the brand’s range of products, like Apple’s watchOS working seamlessly with other Apple devices.

Open Source OS 

Open-source platforms offer a different perspective. Their distinct features include the following:

  • They allow developers have the freedom to tweak and customize the OS.
  • They are more flexible and compatible with Android and iOS.
  • They can be utilized by various manufacturers, leading to many watch styles and prices. 

Some watch technologies can be inconsistent due to varied hardware compatibility. Modern watches, blending various tech, act as potent health tools. Diverse operating systems cater to global user needs, and as tech evolves, smartwatches will play a more central role in our daily lives.


The shift from vintage digital watches to modern smartwatches reveals more than just technological advancements; it’s tied to societal, cultural, and individual changes, highlighting our evolving relationship with tech.

Nostalgia colors our perception of vintage digital watches, evoking memories of a time when technology was emerging. Their unique designs resonate with earlier times, and collectors now value them as tangible symbols of tech evolution.

Smartwatches represent modern times by merging tech and fashion, symbolizing status, health awareness, and our increasing requirement for quick connectivity. Their fusion of utility with style is highlighted by partnerships between tech companies and luxury fashion brands.

The Future 

We’re at a pivotal point in wrist technology, anticipating advancements like augmented reality and real-time health diagnostics in future smartwatches. As AI grows, watches could proactively meet our needs. The evolution of wristwatches will continue, mirroring our aspirations and the era’s technological spirit.

From 1970’s LED watches to modern smartwatches, the transformation highlights technological and societal evolution, emphasizing innovation and personal expression. This journey reflects our deep-rooted drive to innovate and challenge boundaries, with each watch epitomizing the enduring spirit of human creativity.


By Adam Torkildson Adam Torkildson has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Adam Torkildson is a News Columnist at Grit Daily. He is an investor, father, a volunteer SCORE mentor to small business startups, and lives in Utah with his wife and kids.

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