Sprint brings necklace phone to U.S.

It may not resemble an ornament from Cartier, but the wireless carrier is first in the U.S. to sell the "fun" mobile phone. Other companies have similar goods set for the runway.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
2 min read
It appears cell phones are now going for your throat.

Sprint on Thursday became the first U.S. wireless carrier to sell a mobile phone that can be worn around a person's neck. But the new phone, the 4NE1, does not exactly resemble a Cartier diamond necklace.

Instead, the cord is a white strap of braided fibers attached at each end to a plastic "side plate" that clips on to the phone, Sprint spokeswoman Bit Vo said. The phone, which sells for $149, also comes with a display screen that can be decorated with various screen savers.

"We thought it would be a fun phone," Vo said. "Even if you don't want to wear it."

Wearable cell phones for the fashion-conscious have been in the works for years, with companies like IBM working on its own version of an earring phone, and Motorola opening a design center in Milan, Italy, to capture the perfect fashionable look. Several products have been introduced, including Samsung's watch phone.

These items have been available for sale on Web sites or through the individual phone makers. But until Thursday, no U.S. carrier had added anything like it to its product line.

Similar phones from other U.S. carriers are expected to follow. In May, Cingular Wireless will unveil a necklace phone for the U.S. market. The phone, which is described as having "urban elegance," is already selling in Asia. It will also feature the first-ever circular display, said a representative for Motorola, the phone's maker.

Analysts say these phones could end up being a success. Carriers have been spending much of their advertising dollars trying to lure the 20-somethings to cell phone plans, de-emphasizing the latest technological breakthroughs and instead focusing on how the phone looks. Now, they are backing up their marketing pitches with actual products, analysts say.

"The Cingular phone tested through the roof on the fashion scale," said Keith Waryas, an analyst with IDC. "A lot of carriers are getting away from the bits and bytes marketing, focusing on fun and fashion, the look and the feel."

Other companies introducing wearable cell phones include Sony Ericsson, which plans to debut a phone that clips on to a belt and uses the wireless standard Bluetooth to feed calls to an earpiece microphone. The gadget comes in different colors so outfits can be coordinated, said a representative for the joint effort between Sony and phone maker Ericsson.

Nokia, which took fashion to extremes when it helped introduce Vertu's $30,000 phone with its 400 mechanical parts and sapphires and rubies encrusted, also markets wearable phones, a representative said.