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Tech Throwback Thursday: The Nintendo Power Glove

December 18, 2014
By Alexander Lucas

Wearable tech. Whether you are talking about Apple Watch, Google Glass, or Fitbit, wearable technology has generated a lot of media attention in the last three years. But let's not forget the wearables of yesteryear: the Power Glove, calculator watches and early wearable computers. Although the promise of these gadgets is alluring, the true worth of an invention is often not realized until years later. 

“I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad.”

Twenty-five years ago this week, the awesomely cheesy cult movie classic “The Wizard opened in theaters. The Nintendo movie featured Fred Savage, a child actor incredibly popular at the time because of TV hit “The Wonder Years.” However, the real stars of the movie were not actors. Super Mario Bros 3 made its U.S. debut in the movie and the wearable accessory, the Power Glove, was featured prominently and used by the film’s villain.

The film holds the Power Glove in such reverence. The Power Glove seemed to be the ultimate controller, allowing the user to control video actions with movements of their hand. The functions it was designed to control were later improved upon in much later generation peripherals like the Nintendo Wii and the PlayStation Move.

Unfortunately only 100,000 units ever sold and very few games were optimized for the Power Glove, making it a commercial dud. Lucas Barton’s character from “The Wizard” may have been talking more about sales than slang: “It’s so bad.”

Smart watches: “It goes beyond time”

The calculator watch (view for a good laugh at a classic 1983 commercial). Just hearing those words, you know what I’m talking about. They were practically a tech fashion accessory in the 1980s. While wrist watches date back to the 16th century, the first "smart" watches with built-in calculator faces did not appear until the 1970s.

Doubt their popularity? Check out "The Breakfast Club," "Back to the Future," or The Police's "Wrapped Around Your Finger." That even in the more recent past, such style gurus as Dwight Schrute from “The Office” and Walter White from “Breaking Bad” rocked the calculator watch in the 21st century.

You would think the rise of PDAs and then smartphones might have killed the calculator watch altogether. Wrong: The Casio Databank, for example, has sold continuously for over 20 years. Perhaps this means the Pebble, Apple Watch and others may carve out a niche. Or consumers may find that they don't really need to do multiplication on the go.

Resistance is futile: Cyborg eyewear

One of the newest entrants into the wearables category launched in 2012: Google Glass. Due to Glass’s unique place in the tech world, polarized opinions and reactions followed swiftly. Strangely though, this "invention" is not as new as it seems, either.

In the early 1990s, a group of MIT students formed the Borg Lab, fashioning computers to be worn with headpieces as visual displays. Some of these devices had a single eyepiece similar to the modern Google Glass, while others had full visors more like the Oculus Rift. Their work was based off an even earlier design in 1991 called the Hip-PC.

One of those graduate students at MIT, Thad Starner, would later be recruited into Google X to help develop, yes, you guessed it: Google Glass.

Business challenges with BYOx and wearables

Like all changes in technology there is the potential for corporate disruption. Wearables in the workplace is a particularly challenging issue for privacy and security, as bystanders can’t always detect these devices are being actively used.

With all BYOD considerations, the best course is to have a clear, well-communicated policy. For more information about designing this policy, TEKsystems' BYOD research is a good place to start.

Let us know what your experiences are with wearable technology at work and in your life. What device would you like to have and use?

A self-styled storyteller, Alexander Lucas loves to share his vast knowledge of tech, innovation and design trivia. TEKsystems’ resident video designer is also an avid history buff and writes about technology innovation through time.

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