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