WATCH WHAT YOU SAY
"Dick Tracy is not here right now. He was called away on his two-way wrist radio."
Don't laugh. Next year, you too will be able to talk into your wrist.
The voice-mail message at the Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum in Woodstock, Ill., makes reference to the intrepid detective and his once unthinkable communication tool. But author Chester Gould's fantasy wrist phone is becoming a reality. The latest status toy for the millennium: Swatch Talk, the fashionable Swiss company's first portable phone packaged in a wristwatch.
Swatch, the company known for its design-conscious, affordable and collectible timepieces has spent years working on a phone watch. They're calling it Swatch Talk.
It will be available in Europe and Asia in February. By the end of the year 2000, you will be able to pick one up in Swatch's store that recently opened in Tysons Corner. Count on paying $350.
"Making a telephone that's the size of a watch is a major challenge," says Yann Gamard, president of Swatch Group U.S. It's also hard to use it in noisy areas because it will broadcast the stock tips you're exchanging with your brother to the nearby crowds.
Who's the customer? "It's for people who are very mobile and want their hands free," says Gamard. "It's not for those people who actually like wearing all that stuff like pagers and keys and cell phones hanging from their belt."
Additional features of Swatch Talk: it's waterproof and it does tell time.
CRANKING UP THE RADIO
Survivalists arming their cupboards for Y2K are stocking the Freeplay Self-Powered Radio because it doesn't even require batteries. Displaced Kosovars returning to their villages are winding up the radio to hear up-to-the-minute news of their war-torn country. Campers hiking on the Appalachian Trail are relying on the solar power feature of the same radio to catch local storm warnings.
Rarely has a radio design captured so far-flung a customer base. The Freeplay Self-Powered Radio is operated by human energy -- a 30-second cranking produces one hour of operation. The technology, which uses a hand-wound spring mechanism to convert human energy into electricity, originally was developed as an educational aid in developing countries with little access to electrical power.
The radio is made by Freeplay Energy USA in Warwick, N.Y. (1-800-946-3234). Available in fashion colors such as translucent red, green and blue as well as more minimalist charcoal, it sells for $79.95. A Freeplay lantern uses the same technology. Other products in the works are land-mine detectors and water-purification systems.
"This product has many appeals from the technological perspective and the humanitarian one," says Joseph Vittoria, president of Freeplay. "It has a broad range of applications from emergency situations to biking to beach."
One of the best reasons to switch to Freeplay: no more dead batteries.
ONE COOL BASKET
English designer Jasper Startup wanted to create a breeze and he created a buzz.
His simple idea -- installing an electric fan inside a rounded wicker basket -- recently turned heads at major international design shows in London and Milan. Wind, as his fan for the Italian company Gervasoni is called, has just been selected to appear in the Year 2000 Design Yearbook, an annual compendium of the best of the best.
"The basket weave creates a different visual identity for the product as well as letting the air go through," says Startup, who creates furniture and lighting for private clients. "Instead of looking industrial, the fan is a friendly thing."
Wind, Startup's first product for an Italian company, will be available this fall locally through Theodore's in Washington. Prices for the two sizes will be about $345 and $570.
CAPTION: Stylish "Wind" fans to match the porch furniture.
CAPTION: To add to your Y2K ration closet: Freeplay lantern and radio that the users operates by winding up. No batteries required.
CAPTION: Swatch Talk: the world's first Swatch with an integrated telephone.