Ever since Dick Tracy cast glances at a very clever wristwatch, mobile videophones have inspired our imagination. Now third-generation ('3G') telephony looks set to make them reality.
In Japan, the VisualPhone, which transmits two colour pictures a second, is already available. It's not 3G, so picture quality is fairly weak.
However NTT Docomo, Matsushita and NEC all held 3G trials last year. The resulting higher bandwidths will allow a far greater amount of information to be transmitted, which means that the images will really come to life.
Super sleuths aside, there remains the question of who will want to use these devices: it's good to talk, but not if you're having a bad hair day. However, Orange has come up with a wheeze that takes 3G beyond the realm of mere gimickry. Next year it will launch a videophone which will not only take interactive television but allow you to read a fax too. Now that really does sound useful.