Phones Just Get Smaller And Smaller...

CELLULAR PHONES ARE getting so small you can't cradle them on your shoulder without inviting a trip to the chiropractor. Two companies are doing something about that.

In a bow to Dick Tracy, Japan's Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. has developed a prototype phone that fits into a wristwatch weighing just 2 1/2 ounces (photo). There's no touch pad, because a user dials by speaking. The lithium-ion battery and antenna are in the watchband. NTT researchers hope to develop batteries by early 1998 that will make the phone powerful enough to work with Japan's digital cellular service, the personal handyphone system.

But as Dick Tracy knows, speaking into a wristwatch ties up your arm. Aura Communications Inc., a year-old Wilmington (Mass.) startup, solves that by breaking a phone into two parts. One part fits in the ear and has a lightweight arm extending to the mouth. The other goes in a pocket. Instead of infrared or radio waves, the two parts communicate by inducing magnetic fields in each other. This consumes little power at short range, so one rechargeable button cell gives the earpiece at least eight hours' use.

Aura says its patented magnetic-induction system could be used with other phones, including cordless sets for home and office. It's selling its technology to phone makers. The first systems should go on sale early next year, says President Frank A. Waldman.