Smell-o-vision always seems to be the oldest idea that modern technology hasn’t been able to perfect, much less implement. Whether or not it actually adds anything to a narrative, 3D movie technology looks very good for what it is. We have a cheap, crowdsourced, semi-VR headset in the Oculus Rift, and in case anyone has forgotten, we carry tiny touchscreen computers around in our pockets that we can activate by talking to them. For whatever reason, though, smell-o-vision hasn’t made its way to the consumer market. However, in something of an incredible twist, smartphones may get widespread smell-o-vision before, for example, cooking shows.
“Smell-o-vision for phones” most likely sounds like something that would activate when you’re watching video on your phone, but in another somewhat incredible twist, developer ChatPerf has created a device that adds smell-o-vision to text messaging. Called Scentee, the device plugs into the bottom of your smartphone, and allows you to attach a scent — as opposed to, for example, an image — along with your message. Aside from trolling all of your friends with weird odor messages — odessages, if you will — ChatPerf envisions the device being used like an emoticon; a smiley doesn’t convey your entire message, but it does help convey it. In ChatPerf’s example, you know your friend is exhausted, so you send a text message and attach a soothing scent to help them further their relaxed state. Along with a somewhat superfluous text attachment, ChatPerf envisions the device being used as an alternative alert system. Rather than an aggressive chime or an embarrassing song that you keep forgetting to remove when you get an email, you can set the device to release a pleasing scent.
ChatPerf also discusses more complex integrations of its device, such as with gaming. If you’re playing a shooter, a whiff of gunpowder could fill the air. The company has already released an SDK for the mobile smell-o-vision, so anyone can theoretically integrate their apps with the device.
As for changing the scent, the company is planning a business model where you can purchase different tanks — the little device plugged into the bottom of the phone — that contain different scents. At the moment, the tanks are using dock connectors that can plug into anything up to the iPhone 4S — no Lightning connector just yet. ChatPerf isn’t leaving out Android consumers either, and said it plans on releasing a Scentee that plugs into headphone jacks sometime this September.
The company’s website lists the scents as perfumes, rather than the “mixture of oils” that most smell-o-vision usually refers to, but what is perfume if not a mixture of oils? The website is a little barebones at the moment, only listing the current phone compatibility, and that the system will use perfume cartridges.
As we recently highlighted in another smell-o-vision story, the technology has been aroundfor a very, very long time. The first recorded test of it took place over 100 years ago using a system of cotton soaked in rose oil, then placed in front of fans. When smell-o-vision does make its occasional appearance, it’s generally some kind of box containing vials of scented oils, which are then mixed and released in order to create a certain scent. The oils get used up after a while, and have to be replaced. It would seem ChatPerf hasn’t overcome this style of implementation just yet, but it has managed to create a small, mobile device that can conceivably work with just about any app, so long as the app developer is proficient enough with the SDK.
As far as we can tell, there’s really no reason why smell-o-vision hasn’t caught on. The technology is there, and has been for a while. Refillable cartridges might seem like a tedious extra cost, but we’re already quite used to that thanks to printers. We even purchase refillable scented cartridges for our Glade PlugIns. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for smell-o-vision is either that it’s too difficult to account for every possible scent a video game or movie could conceivably offer, or simply that no one would really want to know what the zombies in Resident Evil or the unwashed train workers in Hell on Wheels smell like. Being able to attach an arbitrary scent to a text message, though, seems like a clever way to prevent potentially repulsive situations.