Friday, September 06, 2013

Does the oPhone pass the sniff test?

If I were the inventive type which, unfortunately, I am not, I like to think that I’d invent stuff that was useful.

Like something that Pied Pipered the drain flies right out of my bathtub drain and into oblivion.

A telepathic iron unplugger so that, once the flight to Paris has lifted off the ground, I could just think “unplug iron” and the iron would unplug.

How about self-cleaning eyeglasses, so that someone trying to look me in the eye would never, ever, ever see those smudges and smears and think ‘what a slob.’

But I don’t think I’d ever, ever, ever invent a smartphone accessory that emitted a smell.

So I never, ever, ever would have come up with the oPhone.

Then again, I’m not the inventive type. And Harvard Professor David Edwards clearly is:

The current oPhone…is a separate handheld device that is linked to a smartphone via Bluetooth. (Obviously, the long-term vision is to have it integrated into phones, or perhaps designed to be a protective case for the phone.) When triggered by an incoming e-mail, it can emit one of four aromas: espresso, hazelnut, latte, and mocha. "There's a small cartridge inside that has the ability to deliver these micro-odors when it is heated," Edwards says. (Source:

You mean someday I won’t have to be content with just having bespoke ring-tones for everyone on my contact list (which, come to think of it, I’ve been meaning to get around to)? But I’ll be able to have a special micro-odor for everyone as well? Which means if my phone is on silent, I’ll still be able to tell who’s incoming?

Wow-weeeee! What a breakthrough!

You tell me the world hasn’t been waiting for this one…

After all, haven’t we been hoping against hope that someone, somewhere, would come up with the ways and means to inject even more chemicals into the atmosphere?

Think of all the applications:

…like using smell to persuade you to book a spa treatment, or stop by a bakery to grab a fresh baguette.

New car smell to convince you to dump your car. Balsam to get you to buy more Christmas presents. Incense to get you longing for church.

But Edwards has other ideas, too: "You might go to see a movie, and you'd get a cartridge that's synchronized with the movie, and integrates with the drama. It could be relevant in gaming — a scent track you could design for a game or any audio or video program." Edwards is also interested in what you might call therapeutic smells: a unique aroma that helps you fall asleep at night, or makes you less hungry.

Okay. I’ll concede that something that makes you less hungry might be a useful smell to have around. After all, most good smells – think baguette – get you to want to eat more.

But smells integrated with a movie’s drama?

Movies are supposed to smell like stale popcorn and Raisenets, aren’t they?

What else do you need?

I have been to a couple of movies where the theater experience included unplanned special effects, and, to tell you the truth, they were pretty distracting.

My sister Trish and I were at a screening of Mommy Dearest, when some guy came running through the theater, chased by another fellow waving a gun. Unbelievably, Trish and I were among the only people who left the theater, and when we told the guy in the lobby what was going on, he just shrugged. Which might have made sense if the pursuit had been a Joan Crawford look-a-like chasing a Cheryl Crawford look-a-like with a wire hanger.

Then there was the time my friend Mary Beth and I were watching one of the worst movies ever made – Lena Wertmuller’s Swept Away – when the power in the old Exeter Theater went out. Fortunately, we were able to get a rain check, usable for a movie other than Lena Wertmuller’s Swept Away. Talk about an act of God.

And don’t get me going on the screaming infant at the late night showing of The Harder They Come, which my sister Kathleen will no doubt remember.

Personally, between what’s happening on the screen; the impromptu occurrences like the off-screen chase scene avec gun; the smell of stale popcorn; and the boobs in the row behind you who don’t understand that paying money to see a film in a movie theater with a couple of hundred strangers does not entitle you to spend the entirety of show-time prattling in a loud voice to your companion, there’s already quite enough going on without adding some olfactory nonsense.

I do not need the smell of napalm when I’m watching Apocalypse Now, thank you.

Edwards is not all about goofball stuff like the oPhone.

He was a co-founder of a company now known as Civitas Therapeutics, which is developing an inhalable prescription drug for Parkinson's disease.

Which sounds wonderfully useful, and makes a lot more sense than a scent-omitting smartphone.

All I can say is, there’s one question I don’t need or want an answer to, and that’s What will they think of next?

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