CEBIT : Samsung unveils watchphone prototype

The time is right for wristwatch devices at the CeBIT trade show in Hanover, Germany, where Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. unveiled a non-working prototype of a new watchphone and Motorola Inc. showed prototypes of several wearable computing devices.

The Samsung phone, scheduled to be available later this year, was on display at the company’s crowded telecommunications booth at the show, alongside new cellular handsets, PDA-phones and smartphones.

Designed to run on GSM 900MHz or 1800MHz networks, the Samsung watchphone also connects to GPRS networks and Bluetooth personal area networks, according to Samsung.

There is also a built-in Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) browser, although the watch’s 96-pixel by 64-pixel screen, which has a diagonal width of roughly 3 centimetres, could be a little small for any serious mobile Web browsing.

The screen is an Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) display. It can display 256 colours and like many of Samsung’s other cellular telephones it also has a 40-tone polyphonic ringer, as well as a speakerphone function.

Samsung said the product would hit the European market in the fourth quarter of this year. Details for other markets were not announced.

Motorola, which unveiled a new design for a similar device last week, took the wraps off a concept model in 2000. The designs unveiled this week include not just watches but also glasses, ear buds, digital cameras and pens with phone and other functions.

Japan’s Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT) produced a working wristwatch phone in 1998 and supplied prototype units to officials working at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, although a commercial product never followed.

Watchphones are just one example of work by several electronics companies to build devices into small form factors.

Earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corp., showed off a wristwatch built by Fossil Inc. based on his company’s Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) initiative. That watch is not a phone but can display information broadcast on a slow speed data channel by FM radio stations.

Fossil is also planning to produce a wristwatch PDA (personal digital assistant) in the middle of this year that runs the Palm operating system.