March 26, 2003 3:00 PM PST

NTT DoCoMo flicks wrist phone

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Dick Tracy never had it so good.

On Wednesday, Japanese cell phone carrier NTT DoCoMo began taking orders for its Wristomo, a wristwatch that unfolds into a cell phone.

Wristomo is a fully functioning phone that also sends and receives e-mails, browses Web pages at the speed of an America Online connection, and can determine its own geographic position, according to the carrier, which often debuts devices later sold by many wireless device makers.

The gunmetal gray device is among the first examples of a wrist-worn cell phone making its way to market decades after being envisioned by the creators of 1940s comic book gumshoe Dick Tracy. Samsung, IBM and Microsoft are among a number of companies that have designs for wearable wireless devices.

But the watch-phone combination may be a hard sell--at least for now--with price tags hovering around $1,000. Samsung indicated $1,000 could be the asking for its SPH-S1OO. NTT DoCoMo did not indicate what it would be charging for the Wristomo.

Watch phones will "never appeal to the mass market--not for a long time," said IDC wireless analyst Keith Waryas. "Some people are going to buy these just to show their pals what they just bought. But that'll be it."

Microsoft is eyeing the nascent market with it's Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) expected to be used in wristwatches and refrigerator magnets.

The technology lets people access relevant information, despite the device's diminutive size, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates recently told a gathering of wireless industry executives.

Watchmakers Fossil, Citizen and Suunto all plan to have SPOT-enabled models available by the end of the year.


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