What do you get for those digerati on your holiday gift list who already have everything that's high-tech? A 450-megahertz PC? Too boring and quickly out of date. A digital TV set? Not until there's more digital programming. A Furby? Too obvious. To help get you through the shopping wars this year, we asked Times staff technology reporters each to nominate one must-have item. (For the hard-core gamers on your list, see Aaron Curtiss' guide to video games and gear on C6.)
Among the mobile phone elite, the most coveted devices usually come in very small packages. Not so this year. The phone with the biggest holiday status-symbol punch is the new satellite phone--and service--offered by Iridium.
In November, Iridium launched commercial phone service over its global satellite communications network. The service, while not available everywhere, makes it possible to make and receive wireless calls (as well as pages) in areas once well out of reach-- without requiring suitcase-size equipment.
The special phones cost more than $3,000 and come in versions made by Motorola or Kyocera. Earth One Network, the only Los Angeles distributor listed on Iridium's Web site, doesn't have phones available yet but is keeping a waiting list.
Phone service that includes satellite access costs $50 a month for U.S. only, and $60 per month for international. Calling rates start at $2.50 per minute for domestic dialing and $6 for international. The per-minute cost rises substantially when long-distance and other charges are added.