Introduction: Apple II Watch

About: My name is DJ and I previously made electronic whatsits, 3D-printed thingamabobs, and laser-cut kajiggers for the Instructables Design Studio; now I build and repair puzzles for Particle Industries.

CUPERTINO, California—September 9, 1984—Apple Computer Inc.® today unveiled Apple // watch™—its most personal device ever. Apple // watch introduces a revolutionary design and A BASIC USER INTERFACE created specifically for a smaller device. Apple // watch features A KNOB, an innovative way to SCROLL, without obstructing the display. The KNOB also serves as the RETURN button and a convenient way to PRESS RETURN. The CATHODE RAY TUBE display on Apple // watch features TEXT, a technology that ALLOWS YOU TO READ, providing a new way to quickly and easily access BASIC PROGRAMS. Apple // watch introduces a built-in VERY SMALL SPEAKER that discreetly enables an entirely new vocabulary of alerts and notifications you can HEAR. Apple Computer custom-designed its own 6502 PROCESSOR CUT IN HALF to miniaturize an entire computer architecture onto a PRINTED CIRCUIT BOARD. Apple // watch also features TWO DISK DRIVES to pair seamlessly with your MAGNETIC STORAGE DISKS.

Pricing & Availability Apple //w will be available in early 1985 starting at $1299 (US). Apple // watch is compatible with Apple // or Apple // Plus, Apple /// or Apple /// Plus, Apple //c, Apple //e, Apple Lisa, and Macintosh running on ELECTRICITY.

Step 1: Anachronistic Objects: Designing a Device That Never Was

When I set out to design the Apple II watch, I originally planned to create a faithful tiny replica of the classic machine in a wrist-sized form factor. While researching the design I began to ask if I really just wanted to make a miniature, or something altogether new? I settled on the latter. The design would be a working* device, heavily inspired by the form factor of the full size computer, but it would also be an imaginative exploration of a wearable tech world that began long before we had the technology to do so in a meaningful way. Calculator watches are already, by definition, a wrist-worn computer, and are pretty neat, but there's just something so appealing about the idea a tiny wrist-worn CRT. I also wanted to push my new 3D modeling skills as well, so building a reasonable complicated enclosure was a fun challenge.

Does it run BASIC?

Although the MCU I'm using runs at a blistering (by early 1980's standards) 72 MHz , the watch functions are mostly parody of the modern Apple Watch. My version does keep and display the real time and date, the rest of the UI is mostly for fun. I considered spending the time to add a BASIC interpreter (either Woz's Integer Basic or perhaps Tiny Basic), but the return on my time would be diminishing. I spent about 3 weeks casually working on the case design and basic circuitry and another week on the graphics and software.

Step 2: Technical Specifications

The actual functioning hardware includes:

Teensy 3.1(72 MHz ARM processor, 256K ROM 64K RAM, built-in real-time clock)

1.8" TFT LCD (160x128 pixels 18 bit color)

SOMO II MP3 (for playback of sound effects)

LiPo charger/boost converter

push button power switch

momentary push button

rotary encoder (panel-mount)

8 ohm 2W speaker

(2x) 3mm red LED

(2x) 1 K ohm resistor

800 mAh LiPo battery (gives about a 3 hour lifetime)

2032 coin cell battery

32.768 kHz crystal

(2x) 2GB microSD card

1/4" knob

(8x) M2.5 x 6

(4x) M2.5 x 10

wire (26 gauge)

Step 3: Electronic Assembly

There is quite a lot packed into this tiny package. Since I had so little space, the entire circuit uses point to point wiring using stranded wire. Ultimately this proved to cause a few headaches (more on this later), so I settled on solid core wire, despite it being a bid harder to compress into the case. The electronics are ultimately wrapped in electrical tape in order to prevent shorting when squished together. For those curious, I've attached the datasheet for the MP3 module (you can find the full pinouts on the product pages linked on the previous step).

Step 4: Software

The main program is a simple Arduino sketch running on the Teensy 3.1 (attached above are the main sketch, required libraries, bitmap images, and sound effects). You'll need the Teensy IDE + loader to run this. Paul Stoffregen has put a lot of work into making the Teensy dev boards awesome and easy to use, so they're my go-to micro for quick embedded projects.

The program does a few things:


The main user interface is a rotary encoder, ehem, digital crown, so the teensy uses an interrupt-based (via the Encoder library) to check for any rotation. The Bounce library makes quick work of easily reading the button. Spinning the knob cycles through highlighting the sub-menu selection with a button press for entrance and exit of said sub-menu.

Boot Sequence

The watch does a quick "boot" up routine to mimic the start-up process of a real Apple ][ computer. A full screen of of brackets fills before the system beep, followed by a disk drive head "calibration." Both noises are .MP3 files that are played on the tiny 2 watt speaker.


The main user screen shows the current date and time and a plain all caps list of various submenu functions:

clock - shows a random analog clock face

fitness - fills up "progress bars" for moving, exercising, and standing

pictures - cycles through a selection of bitmaps

phonebook - displays a list of abbreviated names

weather - shows a photo of Earth

music - slowly animates a flower opening

utility - displays a static photo of a butterfly

disk manager -blinks the disk drive LEDs a couple times

Step 5: 3D Print an Enclosure

I designed the watch using Autodesk Fusion 360 and printed the entire watch on an Objet Connex printer, allowing for the fine details and certain things like the "CRT glass." I've attached the .stl files for anyone who wants to print their own. If you don't have access to a 3D printer, you can use Shapeways, Ponoko, or 3D Hubs (which is built into intstructables) all very awesome services who can print nearly anything.

Step 6: Painting the Case

These photos show off the paint process of an earlier prototype that still accomodated the magnetic induction charging system, but the process is the same. I coated the pieces in Montana brand primer and followed up with "Elm" colored paint. This was the closes approximation I could find at my local art supply store to the "classic" sickly beige color of electronics circa 1985. A layer of black paint was also added to the disk drive face plate to cover any imperfections in the 3D printing process.

Step 7: Stickers!

For an added touch I wanted to add a little prop to make the watch seem even more scaled down (the watch is roughly 1:6 to an Apple ]['s monitor). With this scale in mind, I decided to create a 7/8" floppy disk that could slide into the front face of the watch. I found a high resolution photo of a 5.25" floppy and created a vector file for printing. I used a Roland vinyl cutter/printer to turn the floppy artwork into stickers, which I then adhered to a thin piece of laser-cut card-stock in order to give them some rigidity. I went through a similar design process for the Apple logos on the inductive charger and main case. I've attached the artwork for the floppy disks and logos as .PDFs above.

Step 8: Setbacks...

Patience is a Virtue

In my desire to meet my own personal deadline to complete the watch, I neglected to do continuity testing throughout my circuit in a hunt for shorted connections. A wary power wire on the MP3 module had wiggled toward the adjacent ground pin, frying my circuit. Damn. I was unsure what damage I really did, but nonetheless, my circuit would not turn on. It was time to reset. Thankfully, Adafruit's powerboost circuit had spared me the misfortune of a directly shorted LiPo battery, the built-in over current protection was up to spec!

Inductive Charging

Although this was ultimately scrapped, I wanted to show off this little added gizmo. I originally wanted to mimic the magnetic locking inductive charging aspect of the new apple watch, but the inductive coils broke. I'm not sure of the point of failure, but at this point I decided I'd rather scrap this feature. It was cool, my mock "mag-safe" connector worked, but it was more of a hassle than a feature. Leaving this behind meant more time to focus on the main watch!

Step 9: Final Thoughts

This was a really enjoyable project to build and I certainly gained a lot of respect for the fine engineers who do this for real products. I'm definitely in the mood of creating even more anachronistic devices in the future. I would also love to see someone build on this and make a fully featured "smart watch" using a retro computer design and true OS. If you have any ideas for similar projects, I'd love to know. Thanks for reading!


Are you selling these?

No. This is just a one-off art piece.

Why not?

This design uses Apple trademarks. Also, I don't want to manufacture these. I'm quite happy with my job and lack of cease and desist orders.

How much did this cost to make?

Approximately $100 in electronics and $100 in 3D-printed parts and miscellaneous hardware bits.

How big is it?

The final case is roughly 3" x 3" x 1"

3D Printing Contest

Participated in the
3D Printing Contest