Pocket Avatars Tested: Intel’s Weirdly Amusing Messaging App

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Some people think it’s creepy, some people find it funny, but no matter how you react to Intel’s first messaging app Pocket Avatars, you cannot deny that it’s incredibly amusing. Currently in private beta testing mode and available for Android and iOS, Pocket Avatars is an app that uses facial gesture recognition to send a talking head to your friends.

For now, Pocket Avatars is only available for beta testers who have an iPhone 5, iPad 3 or 4 and the Galaxy S3 or S4. Starting up Pocket Avatars was relatively painless. On first launch the app shows you a quick, 3-page tutorial on how to get started, with options to view a video on Tips For Beginners. 

MORE: 10 Weirdest Social Networks

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Once you go through all three pages, you’re taken to a screen to position your face within a frame. 

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This is the fun part. After you tap Align Face, you’ll be shown the default avatar – George Washington on what appears to be part of a bill. At the top of the screen, outlined by a green oval, is your face. Start talking and you’ll find that George Washington mimics, or at least attempts to mimic, your every move. 

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We found Pocket Avatars’ facial tracking to be somewhat inaccurate. The app was able to follow head movements well – the avatar turned left and right just as we did. However, our avatar would sometimes open its mouth when ours was closed. Miley Cyrus fans will also be disappointed to note that no matter how far we stuck out our tongue, the avatar simply refused to stick its tongue out.

Recording a message is simple enough. Tap the red button at the bottom of the screen to start recording your message. The beta version of Pocket Avatars allows for messages of up to 15 seconds. You can also tap the red button again to stop recording. Once you’re done, the record button turns into a play button for you to preview your message. It’s jarring to hear your voice coming out of a 3D-animated dumpling, but that’s also why it’s fun.

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We had a hard time coming up with anything serious or practical to say, because the result was always goofy. Then we really wanted to share our messages with our friends, and Pocket Avatars has three ways for you to do that. You can choose to send your talking head to your friend via email, a text message or within the app to friends who are using Pocket Avatars. You can also save this avatar as a favorite by tapping the star button at the top left to send it again. 

The recorded messages remind us of Outfit7’s Talking Tom Cat app, only you can’t slap or stroke your Pocket Avatars like you can with the Tom Cat.

Much of the fun in Pocket Avatars is impersonating celebrities and making them say funny things. Tapping the face button at the top right brings up a list of already-installed avatars and a plus button to download more. There are plenty of avatars available for download, many of them resembling food items, animals and political characters. We tried sending a message as President Barack Obama and found it incredibly amusing. 

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Intel’s foray into the messaging app market is a quirky one, and while we can’t think of too many practical uses for Pocket Avatars, the app is amusing and fun. Whether this app will become a must-download will depend on the team’s ability to keep coming up with trendy avatars to sustain interest beyond the novelty phase.

If you want to get your hands on Pocket Avatars, sign up at http://bit.ly/1cedIEI to be a beta tester.  

AUTHOR BIO
Cherlynn Low
Cherlynn Low
Cherlynn joined the Laptopmag team in June 2013 and has since been writing about all things tech and digital with a focus on mobile and Internet software development. She also edits and reports occasionally on video. She graduated with a M.S. in Journalism (Broadcast) from Columbia University in May 2013 and has been designing personal websites since 2001.
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  1. Thomas Sachson Says:

    Hi Ms. Low,

    Thank you so much for trying out our app — we really appreciate you taking the time and writing about it. I also just wanted to mention that, aside from having lots of fun (which is very important to us); the Pocket Avatars work is a nice example of something much bigger for Intel — promoting new and compelling user experiences. So in the case of Avatar use, we are really trying to push the boundaries of perceptual computing, enhanced communications, and even promote identity protection / privacy. And of course, making a gesture-tracking avatar on a smartphone (small camera, variable lighting, shaky hands, etc.) is an extra technical challenge too — but we like challenges since we are, after all, Intel.

    We also think that this can become a great way for companies and brands to engage more meaningfully with end-users via social endorsements (just a guess here, but I could envision lots of people wanting to send free Pocket Avatars messages as, e.g., the Hulk in advance of the next Avengers movie — I know I would!). So while it’s early days, we are very excited by the potential.

    Lastly, I just made two quick demo messages for you and your readers right now on my smartphone — hope you enjoy them :-)

    Demo Message 1:
    http://www.pocketavatars.com/#/Play/OMHHOJPLINNN

    Demo Message 2:
    http://www.pocketavatars.com/#/Play/NLFLHCPLINNH

    Thanks!

    Thomas Sachson
    Director, Intel Labs

  2. Cherlynn Low, LAPTOP Staff Writer Says:

    Hi Thomas,

    Thanks so much for the messages. They made me laugh, and I really appreciated it. I look forward to more avatars being loaded onto the market and improvements to the app. I can definitely see myself sending silly messages to my friends as long as it doesn’t take forever to transmit or get boring. Thanks again and I hope to see more updates from Intel.

    Cheers
    Cherlynn

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