Not reinventing the wheel, simply improving it: The Phenom Watch Phone, which combines many of today’s new technologies in one device.Just over a year ago, Mati Herbst, an Israeli entrepreneur, saw someone wearing a ‘mobile’ watch. It had several different functions, other than the traditional one of telling the time, but it was bulky, heavy and unreliable. “It was a toy that you can’t use,” Herbst admits.

It gave him an idea, however. Two months later, he hired a team of engineers in Israel who began work re-engineering and re-integrating existing technologies to create a whole new concept – the Watch Phone – an electronic device that straps around your wrist like a watch, but which contains a telephone, a touch screen, an MP3 and MP4, a digital and video camera, built in Bluetooth, an alarm, group messaging, and even games.

The first Watch Phone is to be launched just after the Christmas and New Year holidays. During the coming year, Herbst’s company Phenom Communications, plans to introduce between 10 to 12 new models in different styles and colors.

Most will provide a GSM cell phone, USB port, touch screen, MP3 (with an easy to upload and download interface), MP4, and digital camera.

From video cameras to group messaging

Aside from these functions, the SpecialOPS Black, will include a video camera, alarm, games, group messaging, call barring, and a range of other features including a micro SD slot, built-in Bluetooth, built-in microphone and speakers, and a stylus for note-taking.

For people who prefer keypads to touch screen, the SpecialOPS also features a unique and compact external keypad, which can be conveniently positioned on the wristband.

The X-Two for world travelers holds two SIM cards for two GSM carriers, allowing two different numbers to ring simultaneously.

Besides English, the device is also available in Spanish, Italian, Arabic, French, Dutch, and German. One of the sleekest designs is the Mi5, with GSM, GPRS, and WAP networks, and with up to two GB micro SD memory card.

Battery power is strong. Call time is two hours estimated per battery; standby time is 120 hours per battery.

A clear advantage of the multi-function wrist-watch-phone, Herbst tells ISRAEL21c, is that you can wear it when you play tennis, basketball, or as you jet around the world, reducing the chances that you can misplace or lose it.

“We are not re-inventing the wheel, we are improving on it,” says 33-year-old Herbst.

The pre-launch of the device took place earlier this month on the Internet and interest is running high, says Herbst, who runs three-year-old Phenom Communications from New York, but carries out R&D in Israel.

“We will not launch the Watch Phone formally until after the holidays because we expect a huge demand,” Herbst tells ISRAEL21c. “Although it has a sizeable inventory now, we do not want anyone disappointed.”

Herbst, an expert in advanced communications products, has been working in the IT industry for more than 13 years. “I started my first company, Compumat, at the age of 20, with NIS 260 in my pocket (about $70),” he admits. “We provided IT solutions to medium sized companies in Israel that didn’t want to maintain a complete, in-house IT department. In 2000, the company expanded to the US; a year later, to Europe. In 2004, it was acquired by EDP, an established international IT consulting group.”

Turning raw technology into practical products

The young entrepreneur, who also co-founded Unwire Jerusalem, the first citywide WiFi network in the world, admits that it is his goal in life to take raw technology and turn into practical, fun products that make life easier and more efficient.

The new Phenom watch phones are to be manufactured in the company’s factory in China. The company’s representative there is an Israeli-American called Shahaf Langleben, who went to China to become a monk, but later on began representing Israeli companies there in business.

“Langleben did not know much about electronics, but he had a passion to learn; he is a talented guy, very smart and responsible” says Herbst. “Having Shahaf in China allows us to maintain high quality control and avoid the ‘usual issues’ involved in China based manufacturing,” he adds.

Luiza Herbst, Mati’s wife and partner, spearheads the marketing effort. Luiza, an honors graduate of Barnard/Columbia, immigrated alone to Israel at the age of 22. She was working at one of the companies for which Compumat supplied IT service, when she met Herbst.

Marketing will begin in the US, and expand to other countries later. The company plans to use an incentive system to encourage buyers to sell the product on to their friends. “It will be a win/win/win promotion,” says Herbst.

The entrepreneurs keep in constant touch with their far-flung colleagues via Mogulphone, another one of Herbst’s products. Still in stealth mode, Mogulphone is a mobile office system that provides the full suite of communication needs on the go, worldwide, including voice, data, and video.

“We think we have a huge window of opportunity in the next 18 to 24 months,” says Herbst.