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This new device is about to send a smell from New York to Paris
Welcome to the future of virtual smells.
We’ve made astounding communicative leaps in the past century, from letters, to phones, to email, to Skype. Now one company is poised to revolutionize the way we keep in touch all over again—by appealing to the strangest and most emotive of the human senses.
Yes, where “Smell-O-Vision” and similar gimmicks failed to bring aromas to more than a few niche (but delightful) films, the folks behind Vapor Communications sincerely believe they can make scents a crucial part of our frenzied messaging culture. On Tuesday morning, teams in New York and Paris will trade emails tagged with smells—or “oNotes”—via the “oPhone,” a new device capable of generating “complex aroma signals.”
These funky transmissions will also require the use of the oNotes iPhone app, through which the sender can append specific scent tags to a photo or text: the software “presents up to 32 unique scents of which users can choose from one to eight, resulting in over 300,000 combinations.” The recipient’s oPhone, Fast Company explained, will decode the mixture and release it locally by spinning air over the relevant chips in its aroma database.
If that doesn’t sound exactly the same as letting someone a thousand miles away smell their favorite perfume or cologne on your neck, well, you’re onto something. David Edwards, a Harvard professor and Vapor’s CEO, is currently focused on the intersection of food and business, “places where the quality of aroma is associated with the quality of the product or experience.” In a press release about the technology, angel investor Todd Dagres wonders if “a scent could be worth a thousand pictures,” but asks us to consider “the difference between seeing a picture of a cup of coffee and smelling the coffee.”
Even then, it’s a stretch to say that you could smell the coffee pictured in my oNote—really, you’d be smelling #coffee, plus other generic odors: #hazlenut, #vanilla, etc. No information is pulled from the steaming mug itself. Still, it’s early days yet; Edwards and his co-inventor (Rachel Field, his former student) are likely to further improve their design. In fact, they’re already talking about posting “scent selfies” (“scenties”?) on Facebook. Given how many selfies are staged in bathrooms, we sort of hope that’s not a future we have to face.
Miles Klee is a novelist and web culture reporter. The former editor of the Daily Dot’s Unclick section, Klee’s essays, satire, and fiction have appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, Vanity Fair, 3:AM, Salon, the Awl, the New York Observer, the Millions, and the Village Voice. He's the author of two odd books of fiction, 'Ivyland' and 'True False.'