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CELLULAR PHONES APPROACHING SIZE OF DICK TRACY'S WRISTWATCH RADIO

For decades, the comic strip image of Dick Tracy talking on a two-way wristwatch radio has been held up as the future direction of communications technology.

Someday, we'll have a two-way wristwatch radio.Indeed, developments in personal communications equipment since November hold out the first real hope that that day, despite all similar such previous prognostications, actually may arrive soon.

The excitement of that fast-approaching reality may have been what caused Paul Davis, executive vice president of Uniden Corp. of America, to bubble over and begin talking about the 12-ounce hand-held cellular telephone his company would introduce this fall.

At $900 retail, that would be quite a communications coup. Quite enough cause to bubble over.

For it was little more than two weeks ago that Motorola Inc., the $8.3 billion communications giant that is beating the Japanese at their own game, knocked the electronics industry on its ear, figuratively and literally, by introducing a "Star Trek"-type flip-open hand-held communicator.

Its Micro Tac product is the first cellular phone to fit in a pocket. For the first time, you can carry a two-way communicator anywhere you go, theoretically wearing only the shirt on your back.

That device weighed only 12 ounces, also a breakthrough. Yet the Micro Tac costs between $2,500 and $3,000, to start. So, if Uniden could have a $900, 12-ounce hand-held cellular phone on the market by fall, the Fort Worth company could take the field by storm.

Herschel Shosteck, the statistical and analytical chronicler of the cellular communications business, based in Silver Spring, Md., was astounded at the prospect of a $900, 12-ounce cellular phone available by autumn.

Hold the phone.

Graham Loving, a Uniden communications product manager, pricked the bubble later. The Uniden hand-held phone would weigh in at 18.5 ounces, not 12 ounces. In the miniature world of personal communications, that's the difference between news and non-news. Panasonic, Fujitsu and other competitors have pound-plus products out there in that price range.

However, hold the radio.

Don't give up hope on the idea of a wristwatch-size communications device by year-end.

A San Franciso start-up called AT&E Corp. this month raised an additional $21 million and now is sitting on a $36 million cash hoard as it prepares to launch what so far have been engineering prototypes of its new product, so far demonstrated in private in its labs in Portland, Ore.

The company's president: Charles Skibo, former president of a not-so-small communications company called US Sprint, the nation's third-largest long-distance company.

The company's product: A wristwatch radio.

Starting by the end of the year in Seattle and Portland and in early 1990 for the rest of the nation's top 50 markets, Seiko will begin selling digital wristwatches that include AT&E's radio receiver on a chip.

In effect, the new device will be a combination watch and paging device, in a package about the size of a slightly thick jogging watch.