Monday, 05 February, 2001

Samsung's Watch Phone

Calling Dick Tracy!  Samsung has introduced a new Watch Phone.  At 2.7" x 2.3" x 0.8", and weighing 48 grams with battery, the thing isn't a whole lot bigger than the watch I bought in Jamaica last week.  It also has a longer battery life (90 minutes continuous talk, 60 hours standby) than the 3-year-old telephone that I cart around with me every day.  It also has more features:  voice-activated dialing, earphones, and multiple alert signals (alarms).  Samsung is working on text-to-speech software that will give users audio access to short message service and email.  At $1,000, it'll probably remain a cute gimmick for people who don't have anything better to do with their money, but it sure is cool.

In other cell phone news, at least four vendors were showing phone/PDA combinations at Comdex in November.  The Casio Cassiopeia's new battery pack doubles as a phone, and Handspring's Visor Phone ($299) clips into the Springboard expansion slot.  Kyocera was showing its upcoming Palm OS-based cell phone, and Microsoft revealed its prototype Stinger cell phone.  Finally, the guy at the Sprint store in Circuit City last week told me that Sprint will be offering PDA/phone units in the second quarter of this year.

Many vendors seem to think that wireless handsets (or wrist sets) will replace PCs as the preferred way to access the Internet.  I can't see it happening any time soon.  There's just not enough screen real estate, and we don't yet have a reasonable alternative user interface.  Text to speech technology is certainly good enough these days to read your email to you, but speech to text isn't quite there.  Even in the best conditions (little background noise, clear even speech), speech recognition requires huge amounts of memory and processor cycles, and isn't accurate enough for serious communication.  Worse, speech isn't nearly as effective as the written word for conveying the kinds of information that we transmit via email.

The technology's cool, though, and almost worth buying just for the gadget factor...