The Casio J-100 is heralded as the Coach, the Jogging Computer, the Pace Runner or the semi-ultimate watch "for this week," according to an upbeat executive at Casio Inc., the American subsidiary of the giant ($750 million worldwide sales in watches, calculators, computers and electronic musical instruments) Tokyo-based Casio Computer Company. The J-100, which hit the U.S. market last month, is the latest in what the trade no longer even calls watches but "adult toys." Its price: a temptingly reasonable $49.95.
So this fall thousands of Americans will strap on a 20-button, one-ounce, shiny black plastic J-100, a gadget that does almost everything but talk.
Casio leads the digital-watch field in innovative features, what insiders term "the bells and whistles" of the watch biz. Joseph Hudak, Casio's U.S. sales manager, timepiece division, expects to sell five million watches in the U.S. alone this year, double 1980's sales and what he claims is a commanding 20% share (by volume) of the American digital-watch market. Timex, however, disputes Casio's claim and says it dominates the domestic digital market with a 31.5% share.
Attempting to assess the secretive and controversial American watch market with precision, especially the booming digital segment, is risky, but Joe Thompson, the well-respected senior editor of Jewelers' Circular-Keystone, a trade publication, says, "The battle is between Timex and Casio. I would say Casio is winning it. The momentum is certainly Casio's."
In any event, the bargain digitals leave the higher-priced competition sputtering disparagingly about "funny watches" and "the semi-disposable watch market."
The J-100 is Casio's fourth generation of the so-called jogging watches, which were introduced with the now prehistoric F-100 more than three years ago, and the third generation of its calculator watches.
The capabilities of the J-100 provide an effortlessly rich mathematical exegesis of the run, especially to those who can push all the buttons without referring each time to the instruction booklet.
To list some of the "bells and whistles," it is best to echo the advertising copy. The J-100 tells time, of course, in 12- and 24-hour formats, has a beeping alarm, shows the day, month and date until the year 2003, has a four-function calculator with an eight-digit LCD (liquid crystal display) readout and a 24-hour stopwatch that can record lap and first-and second-place times to the 100th of a second, with a micro-light to see it all in the dark.
But its special feature is the jogging computer. It works this way: You enter your standard stride in feet and inches or meters and centimeters, choose a pace from 69 levels ("One is faster than a speeding bullet," says Hudak. "Sixty-nine is almost like death") and set off on your run. A beep sounds when your foot should be hitting the ground. If you're not in synch, you can change your programmed pace—faster or slower—as you move along. And when you're through, the J-100 will supposedly tell you exactly how far you've run in miles or meters, how fast you went in miles or kilometers per hour, how long you've been running and how many steps you took. You can also check your distance and tempo at any point along the way.
Some of this information is quite irrelevant, though possibly interesting, such as the number of steps and your kph speed. And to the American jogger, one very pertinent number will not flash on automatically but must be worked out on the calculator: your time in minutes per mile, the cherished goal of averaging a six- or eight-minute pace for a run. Finally, since all this computation is based on a set stride length, there is a chance here for considerable error because a typical runner's stride shortens on the uphill and with fatigue.
Two silver oxide batteries (at up to $4.95 each) run the whole dazzling show and need to be replaced about once a year. In the LCD watch world, a six-month-old model is considered primitive. Says Hudak, "You'll find a lot of people that after a year, when the battery runs out, are ready for the new model."
Are the generations of LCDs too much, too soon? After all, some of us are inexorably slowing down, and who wants to know that unforgiving information every step of the way? Unless, perhaps, next year's Son of J-100 will tell you, as you pant along, that "you're looking good," or some other reassuring nonsense.