Timex Datalink

Timex Datalink

Timex Datalink or Timex Data Link is a line of watches manufactured by the Timex Corporation. As the name implies datalink watches are capable of data transfer through linking with a computer. The Datalink line was introduced in 1994 and it was co-developed with Microsoft as a "wearable" alternative to mainstream PDAs with additional attributes such as water resistance, that PDAs lacked, and easy programmability. [http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Timex-Corporation-Company-History.html Timex Corp. History] ] The early models included models 50, 70, 150 and model 150s (small size). The model numbers indicated the approximate number of phone numbers that could be stored in the watch memory. These early models were, at the time of their introduction, the only watches to bear the Microsoft logo. [http://web.archive.org/web/20070318052344/http://alex.seewald.at/pch.html Personal Computing History:] "...incidentially the only watch that bears the name of Microsoft on its front panel" (via Internet Archive)] [http://yro.slashdot.org/yro/04/06/02/2222258.shtml?tid=109&tid=155&tid=187&tid=99 Slashdot: "...the Timex-Microsoft watch PDA...Microsoft and Timex introduced one of the first consumer PDAs"] ] The watches have been certified by NASA for space travel and have been used by astronauts and cosmonauts in space missions. There has been an evolution over the years as to the number and type of entries that can be stored in the various watch models as well as the mode of data transfer between computer and watch.

Wireless data transfer mode

Although there are other watches capable of storing all kinds of data, they usually had a small keyboard that could be used to input data. The keyboard was tiny and made data input difficult and tedious and decreased the toughness and water resistance, if any, of the watch. Moreover as soon as the battery expired one had to manually re-input the data.

The Timex Datalink watches were unique because they could transfer data wirelessly from the computer to the watch and therefore made data transfer fast and easy compared to the manual entry keyboard. Since the files were stored in the computer they could be edited in the computer and if the watch battery had to be replaced, loss of files in the watch due to reset was no problem, since they could be easily downloaded as many times as needed.

The data files were accessible via the Timex-Microsoft co-developed special Datalink interface that resided in the computer. In addition the absence of a keyboard made the watch compact, water resistant and no different at first glance from any other digital watch.

Optical sensor

Upon closer inspection however a small lens at the position of 12 o' clock on the watch face indicated the mode of the wireless data transmission. Data was transmitted from the CRT of the computer through a series of pulsating horizontal bars, [http://datalink.fries.net/transfer.html Datalink programming notes] ] that were then focused by the tiny lens and inputted into the watch EEPROM memory through an optoelectronic transducer operating in the visible light spectrum. The CRT synchronization was possible only for systems operating on Windows 95 and Windows 98. The Datalink software does not run on the MAC OS. There is a print with binary numbers on the resin strap of the Timex Datalink 50 model 70301. The binary numbers on the print of the strap are actually ASCII codes which, including capitalization, translate to 'Listen To The Light'. [http://anton-c.blogspot.com/ Picture of model 70301 with resin strap] (Including capitalization the visible code in the picture reads: "Listen T")]

Earlier models of the Datalink series

The earlier Datalink models were the Datalink 50, Datalink 70, Datalink 150 and Datalink 150s where the "s" indicated the size of the model as small and it was designed as a ladies watch. [http://www.toebes.com/Datalink/datalink.html Datalink 150 Open Source Development Tools] Developer website] The 150 and 150s models are essentially the same except that the 150s, having a smaller display, has different display addresses from the 150 and thus it needs its own programming code. The programming code is provided in the Timex Datalink software v 2.1 for all models. . To download the settings to these early models the user was prompted to choose the relevant watch model number. However the menu choices were the same for all models. The only difference was the amount of available memory in the watches and the number of phone numbers, appointments, lists etc. which could be downloaded to each model.

The model number indicated the maximum number of phone numbers that could be downloaded to the watch. For example, the model 150 could store a maximum of 150 phone numbers. The actual number of downloadable phone entries decreased in relation to the other information which was to be downloaded such as appointments, anniversaries, lists, wristapps and watch sounds. These models lacked timers or chronometers of any kind but a simple chronometer could be added as an external application also known as a wristapp.

Digital display and time zones

The time and date parts of the digital display of the Datalink watches consisted of two main rows of seven segment displays while the lower portion was dot matrix with scrolling capabilities. In time display mode the dot matrix portion of the display showed the day of the week to the left and the time zone to the right. The default time zone was indicated as "TZ1" (time zone 1) and was fully user customizable to designate any city in the world, usually using IATA naming conventions. The earlier Datalink models featured dual time zone settings. [http://web.archive.org/web/20061230070350/http://www.timex.ca/en/instructions/150Instr.pdf Timex Datalink Model 150] Quick Start Guide via the Internet Archive Retrieved 16 July 2008] The secondary time zone had the option to become the local (primary) time by pressing and holding a button until the changeover was effected.

Ironman Triathlon Datalink

The earlier models included many PDA-type functions such as anniversaries, appointments, phone directory etc. but they were lacking some popular watch functions such as multi-lap chronos, exercise and countdown timers, etc. In addition their alarms were limited to only five.

To address this weakness in the Datalink lineup, in 1997 Timex introduced the Ironman Triathlon Datalink series that incorporated all the popular features of the rugged Ironman series such as a choice of timers, multi-lap chronometers and an updated look. The number of alarms increased to 10 in the new series. Messages could be displayed during an alarm and they could be downloaded to the watch or inputted manually. [http://web.archive.org/web/20070330161140/http://assets.timex.com/instructions/IDL_QCKG.PDF Ironman Datalink Quick Start Guide] via Internet Archive Retrieved 29-07-2008]

However the new features came at the expense of some older ones. For example, the "Anniversary" and "Appointment" modes of the previous Datalink models were no longer available and the number of phone entries for the Ironman Datalink was reduced to 38 from a maximum of 150 of the older Datalink model 150. Gone was also the "Make a List" function of the Datalink 150 model, which enabled the user to create short lists for various tasks and the ability to import wristapps, special programs with custom applications which could be added to the watch.

The optical sensor was retained, however, and the data transfer mode remained wireless through visible light. The display of the new series had the same architecture as that of the older models. As with the earlier models, the Triathlon Datalink included dual time zones with local time selectability and its battery life was approximately three years under normal use.

Notebook adapter

With the advent of portable computers that use active matrix LCD screens which did not refresh like CRT monitors and therefore could not be used for data transfer, in 1997, Timex introduced a notebook adapter that incorporated a red LED and connected with the laptop through the serial port. During download the LED flashed and the flashing programmed the watch much like the horizontal bars of the CRT. In addition systems running on Windows versions other than Windows 95 or Windows 98, such as Windows NT, no longer offered the option of CRT synchronization, making the use of the adapter a requirement even for desktop computers. In addition for systems without a serial port, a USB to serial adapter can be used to connect the Timex adapter to a USB port.

Timex Datalink USB

The Datalink USB represents the latest stage in the evolution of the Datalink series and it was introduced in 2003. It includes the "Timex Ironman Datalink USB" (sport edition) and the "Timex Datalink USB" (dress edition) models. Apart from their external appearance and the fact that the sport edition is water-resistant to 100m while the dress edition is water resistant to 30m the two models have identical operational specifications. Although initially a mild disappointment for the wireless datalink purists it gained widespread acceptance because although now tethered to the computer through the USB port during data transfer, the new watch featured greatly improved data transfer rates, greatly increased memory capacity and many additional and customizable modes of operation as well as "two way" communication between watch and computer.

Its modes are user customizable with hundreds of phone numbers, alarms and timer settings. It also features three time zones, each of which can be chosen as the primary time display with the press of a button. [http://web.archive.org/web/20061230070711/http://www.timex.ca/en/instructions/DataLinkUSB.pdf Datalink USB Quick Start Guide] through the Internet archive Retrieved 16 July 2008] The new USB models are water resistant to 100m for the sport version and 30m for the dress version and their battery life is approximately two years under normal use.

Wrist apps

The Datalink USB supports software programs developed specifically for the watch. These programs are called "wrist applications" or "wrist apps" for short and they are created by independent software developers. Timex has developed an application called "WristApp SDK Installer" which can facilitate the import of any independently developed "wrist app" into the Datalink USB computer interface and thus make it part of the downloadable program menu in the GUI of the watch.

Unlike its predecessors, the display of the USB series features full dot matrix architecture with no seven segment display sections and is graphics capable. [http://www.timex.ca/en/developer/datalink/ Datalink Developer weblink]
[http://web.archive.org/web/20070627092809/assets.timex.com/developer/accept/index_download.html Datalink Developer weblink from the Internet Archive] ] Many programs have been developed and their applications include video games, screen savers, golf score keepers, watch display contrast and scrolling speed adjustment as well as analog watch displays, phase of the moon calculations and associated display graphics and others. The wristapps are written in assembly language. [http://datalinkwristapps.free.fr/index.php5?n=Main.Wristapps Wristapp details] ]


"Invasion" is an example of a game developed specifically for the watch. [http://www.timex.ca/en/developer/datalink/ Datalink Developer weblink] ] It is designed along the lines of Space Invaders, created by independent software developers. The game has been developed to showcase API instructions for primitive pixel displays such as the one used in the watch. The term "primitive" refers to displays of low resolution where one can discern the individual pixels.

creen saver

Among the many programs and utilities which have been developed for the watch such as football schedules, weather reports and others, there is also a screen saver that blanks out the display of the watch on the minute or the hour, appropriately called: "Screen Saver – Blank".


Another application called "Antikythera" emulates some of the functions of the Antikythera mechanism by calculating the phase of the moon and is accurate to within one day in 500 years. In the future it will also be able to calculate the sun's position in the zodiac and upcoming eclipses. [http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/timexdatalinkusb/message/8838 "Antikythera app" message 8838 in Timex Datalink USB Yahoo Group (signup as group member required for viewing)] ]

Wrist app examples


Timex Datalink is flight certified by NASA for space missions and is one of four watches qualified by NASA for space travel. [http://www.nasaexplores.com/show2_5_8a.php?id=02-024&gl=58 NASA Explores.com] Article 5-8 Quote: "Astronauts have a choice of four watches that are certified to fly in space, says Stephanie Walker, subsystem manager for flight crew equipment at Johnson Space Center. These watches are off-the-shelf models that can be purchased at retail stores. "The certification process assures that they can perform and not self-destruct in the vacuum of space. With pressure variances and temperature extremes, watch components may expand, rupture, or crack, causing a potential hazard to the crew." and "The new watch for astronauts is the Timex® Ironman. This cutting-edge timepiece sells for less than $100. It has a light-emitting diode (LED) port to synchronize up to 10 alarms to the calendar of a personal computer, stores 38 telephone numbers, identifies messages, displays the time in two different time zones, and comes close to serving as a wrist computer, Walker says." Courtesy of NASA's Space Operations Mission Directorate Published by NASAexplores: May 2, 2002 Retrieved 21 June 2008] [http://www.nasaexplores.com/search_nav_9_12.php?id=02-024&gl=912 NASA Explores] Article 9-12 Quote: "Astronauts are permitted to check the watches out before launch, take them home to familiarize themselves with a watch's operation, and in the case of the Ironman, program data into the memory." Courtesy of NASA's Space Operations Mission DirectoratePublished by NASAexplores: May 2, 2002 Retrieved 21 June 2008] [http://forums.watchreport.com/index.php?showtopic=286 Picture of Datalink USB in space] ] [http://forums.watchuseek.com/showthread.php?t=159191#post1087071 Assorted pictures of Datalink including model 50 in space missions] (Including the model 78401 worn by astronaut Daniel T. Barry on the STS-72 Space Shuttle Endeavour launched January 11 1996)] The various Datalink models are used both by cosmonauts and astronauts. For instance during Expedition 1 the crew log for January mentions:

We have been working with the Timex software. Many thanks to the folks who got this up to us. It seems we each have a different version of the datalink watch, and of course, the software is different with each. Yuri and Sergei are able to load up a day's worth of alarms, but Shep has the Datalink 150, and this has a 5 alarm limit. So 2/3 of the crew are now happy. All this is a pretty good argument for training like you are going to fly-we should have caught this one ourselves in our training work on the ground. [http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/station/crew/exp1/exp1shepjan.html Expedition One January Crew Log] ]
In another part of the January log it is mentioned:
Missed a whole comm. pass over White Sands . We need to get the timex watches working so we don't overlook these calls.
while in another segment of the same log:
As 5A is now delayed, we would like to request the "timex" watch software if it is available on the ground-a file that can be uplinked to us. This will help us manage our day as we can load comm. passes into the watches.
and from the February and March crew log of Expedition 1:
We copy the request from Houston on the timex watches. We will keep using the ones we have onboard-there are some workarounds we can apply that will help the limited "alarm" situation. We don't request any more watches be sent up on 5A, but thanks to all the crew equipment folks for asking. As a heads-up to Exp 2, any plans to use the timex download capability should include more laptop IR transmitters. We have 1 onboard, but more will be required if the next crew wants to fully use this capability. [ [http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/station/crew/exp1/exp1shepmarfeb.html Expedition One February and March Crew Log]
[http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/station/crew/exp1/exp1shepmarfeb.pdf February and March Crew Log in pdf form]

The laptop IR transmitter mentioned in the February and March crew log is the Timex notebook adapter. "Exp 2" refers to Expedition 2 and the log mentions they may need more notebook adapters for the upcoming expedition.

Cult and popular culture

Due to its unique features and long tradition of innovation and utility the Datalink watch line has achieved cult-like status among technically minded people. In addition many websites are dedicated to the programming and information exchange among its many fans. Yahoo groups also exist for fans and software developers alike especially for the latest Datalink USB series. [http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/timexdatalinkusbdevelop/ Timex Developer Yahoo Group] ] [http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/timexdatalinkusb/ Timex Datalink USB Yahoo Group] ]

The early Datalink 50/150 models received a tongue in cheek " [dis] honorable" mention in PC World's "25 Worst Tech Products of All Time" list in 2006 and were inducted in "the high tech hall of shame", with the rationale that "It looked like a Casio on steroids" and "To download data to it, you held it in front of your CRT monitor while the monitor displayed a pattern of flashing black-and-white stripes (which, incidentally, also turned you into the Manchurian Candidate)", referring to the earlier, flashing CRT method of data transfer, adding that "Depending on your point of view, it was either seriously cool or deeply disturbing". [ [http://www.pcworld.com/article/125772-7/the_25_worst_tech_products_of_all_time.html PC World's The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time] ]


*Popular Science's Best of What's New Award (1995) (Watch award).
*Design and Engineering Award from Popular Mechanics (1995) (Watch award).
*Innovations '97 awards, (Awarded to both the Data Link Notebook Adapter and the Timex Data Link 150S watch).
*Byte Magazine Best of Comdex award.
*R&D Magazine Top 100 Products.
*Windows Magazine Outstanding Technology Award.

Cited references

External links

* [http://www.timex.ca/en/developer/datalink/ Timex official developer website]
* [http://assets.timex.com/software/?timexBrand=core Timex USB tools download]
* [http://web.archive.org/web/20070629103543/http://assets.timex.com/software/?timexBrand=core Datalink software download from Timex] via Internet Archive
* [http://www.pollensoftware.com/datalink/ Pollensoftware] Wrist app exchange website
* [http://www.toebes.com/Datalink/datalink.html Datalink 150 Open Source Development Tools]
* [http://wxdlusb.sourceforge.net Linux support for the Datalink USB]

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