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wrist phone story

Ever since Dick Tracy slapped a police radio onto his arm, generations of readers have clamored for their own, personal wrist phone.

Why a "wrist" phone?

Why not a belt phone or an earing phone or a shoe phone a la' Maxwell Smart? Indeed, in the wonderfully paranoid film "The President's Analyst", Ma Bell conspired to implant a tiny rotary "brain" phone in every cerebral cortex of the nation.

    Refuse to answer the phone? I think not.

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In 1993, a small group at Bell Labs set out to design a wearable phone. Practically every consumer focus group identified a wearable phone as a top priority, even groups chartered to judge answering machines or new pricing plans. Although consumers ideally preferred a wearable cellphone, cordless phones were just as popular around the home or in the office. If you're in the garden when the cordless phone rings, or rushing around the house searching for a handset left behind the laundry bin, you'll understand why a phone strapped to the wrist was so desirable.

A great product would have to address many user needs-

  • Good acoustics, even in noisy environments like an airport.
  • Allow for private conversations.
  • Light weight.
  • Equally acceptable to left or right handed, male or female customers.
  • Quickly accessible, even in winter with heavy coats (kind of embarrassing to have your rear-end ring, and then have to strip off your clothes in freezing weather).
  • Long battery life.
  • Good human factors- including dialing, speed of actuation, comfort listening to long or short calls, simple dialing, ...

 

After considering the pros and cons of numerous designs, we located the phone on the wrist, just like Dick Tracy.

  • To meet our privacy and acoustics goals, a quickly deployable "handset" was incorporated into a parallel wrist band (see below).
  • Dialing was accomplished in three ways- yet none demanded tapping on a minuscule keyboard.
    • First, the phone's small digital display was employed to scroll through a personal address book.
    • Secondly, the watch stored the last ten "called", and last ten received numbers. Studies showed these three lists covered more than 90% of all potential dialing situations.
    • Lastly, speaker recognition was used to dial the rare exceptions. The speaker recognition capability was provided in the network, to reduce cost and power consumption of the wrist phone. Although a speaker phone mode is occasionally desirable, it draws too much electrical power to be viable.
  • The battery could be swapped without removing the phone off the wrist.

A few models of this phone were built and tested with consumers. Much to our great relief, people not only liked the design but were interested in buying one on the spot- even though the model was a cordless, and not a cellular phone. However, contrary to AT&T's experience with desk phones, style was paramount (this was, after all, a replacement for a watch). So, dozens of models would be required.

wrist1_60


Click image on this to see a

Flashmovie of the phone in operation.

Small_you_will_ad


Click here to see an ad used in AT&T's "You Will" campaign
(about 300 KBytes).

A mockup of the phone can still be seen in the Lucent Bell Labs museum in Murray Hill, NJ.
Click here to see the patent 5239521 or an interview on NPR

 

When these commercials aired (basically a guy calls a girl from the mountaintop) the switchboards were jammed with callers ready to order. Curiously, the ad agency invented their own version of a wrist phone for the commercials, rather than borrowing our mock-up.

The LG Watchphone just debuted at CES in 2009- very credible, and with a bluetooth headset, eliminates the need for a swingout microphone.

Wrist Phone Links:
  • Wrist Dreams stays pretty current on the latest devices
  • Core77 also posted a summary of the latest prototypes, many from China

 

Pre 2006 links:

wristomo cell


Contact Greg Blonder by email here - Modified Genuine Ideas, LLC.