Dick Tracy Phones Hot In Japan

Aiko Hayashi displays NTT DoCoMo's handcuff-like Wristomo, 37,000 yen ($310), 113 gram (4 ounce) wristwatch mobile phone in Tokyo Tuesday, July 1, 2003. The silver-covered metallic look mobile phone comes off the wrist for talking. The gadget is a hit with trend-conscious youngsters and nostalgic Baby Boomers, mostly men, and all 5,000 Wristomo phones have sold out in two months.
It's cool to play Dick Tracy with a watch-shaped phone. But it turns out the thrill wears off pretty quickly, especially if you like to keep your phone conversations private.

That's why the $310 Wristomo from Japan's leading mobile carrier, NTT DoCoMo, snaps off and straightens into a handset to be used more like a regular cell phone.

The handcuff-like Wristomo, weighing 4 ounces, works fine in its watch form a la Dick Tracy. And if you choose to use it as a handset, it wraps back around your wrist with an easy click - a watch again.

The logical question is: If you're going to use it like a cell phone, why not just use a regular cell phone?

Try telling that to the Japanese.

All 5,000 Wristomo phones have sold out in two months. The device is a hit with trend-conscious youngsters and nostalgic Baby Boomers. The latter group, mostly men, is drawn by the Wristomo's angular metallic look, which was inspired by gadgets worn by the Japanese TV action heroes they grew up on.

DoCoMo has no plans to offer Wristomo overseas, though Samsung offers a wrist-phone of its own that is currently available only in South Korea.

One hassle with the Wristomo is writing e-mail and dialing a number, which involves selecting letters or numbers on a chart that pops up on the black-and-white watch face, moving the cursor with buttons that are tiny specks on the armband.

Calling up stored phrases like, "I'm running late," or "Thanks," is recommended, as is saving frequently used phone numbers to your Wristomo directory.

Made by Seiko Instruments, Wristomo is meant to be a backup mobile device for those on-the-go individuals who're determined not to miss a single call - whether mingling at a noisy party, attending a business meeting, and even sleeping or taking a shower.

It's waterproof for 24-hour wear. Keep the vibration feature on, and Wristomo twitches on your arm whenever a call comes in.

To stay relatively small and thin, Wristomo uses the Personal Handyphone System, a wireless technology used in Japan that requires less energy than conventional mobile phones.

Making a similar device on more widespread formats will remain difficult without a major breakthrough in battery life or data transmission, DoCoMo manager Godo Irukayama said.

In addition to talk, Wristomo offers Net links with simple weather forecasts, news headlines and train schedules. It also features location-recognition capabilities and recommends restaurants in your area.

A different kind of wrist appliance is due in the United States this fall.

Microsoft is planning a service that will beam data over a portion of FM radio spectrum to high-tech watches. Watchmakers Fossil and Suunto are developing the appliances.

By Yuri Kageyama