You Can Now Send People Smells Using a Smartphone

The oPhone brings "scent-texting" to the digital age.

Describing a scent to someone, no matter how detailed the explanation, can never replace the stimulation a person gets from actually taking in the aroma. That’s why Harvard Professor David Edwards decided it was time to introduce a product to the market that lets people share and send smells through their smartphones.

On Tuesday, Edwards’ company, Vapor Communications, which has offices in both Cambridge and Paris, France, announced the release of the oPhone DUO and an accompanying app, called oSnap, two products they hope will change the way people communicate with one another.

With oSnap, users can tag their photographs with unique scents, which can then be forwarded and received via email, Facebook, and Twitter in select hotspots where an oPhone is present. The oPhone serves as the hardware that emits the smell sent to a user once they open the message. The oPhone is loaded with what are known as oChips, which can be easily replaced and are responsible for producing oNotes—the actual aromas.

“The app is where it all happens,” said Edwards, who has been working on the oPhone in some form for the last few years. “What we’re interested in is, to provide a way in which we can integrate through email, or text, olfactory messaging into our communications. This way we can express not only, ‘I had a great walk through the market,’ but communicate sensory experiences and feelings and emotions without words. That’s what fascinates us and that’s what this is all about.”

Users sending photos with the oSnap application can choose between 300,000 unique scent combinations when sharing their images, according to the company. Edwards, who built the scent-based system with the continued help of former Harvard University student Rachel Field, said users can create the smells by scrolling through 32 options in the app, and adding up to eight aromas to the mix.

Besides rolling out the app for free in the iPhone store this week, Edwards and his company went live with an Indiegogo campaign to raise $150,000 to bring the oPhones to the general public, so that more scents could be seamlessly shared via social media. “It’s going to deliver to you not just the smell of lemon or grape or whatever— it will be able to make hundreds of complex odors, and in the next generation tens of thousands,” Edwards told Boston in a previous interview about the invention.

Within the next few months, the company is setting up oPhones in select locations around the world, including one in Cambridge, where anyone who downloads a scent can bring their smartphone and unleash the nasal notes. The company’s first “scent vocabulary” focuses on food experiences. Over the coming months, oSnap will expand to provide other scent vocabularies and additional aromatic experiences, they said. “The first products will be focused on coffee and entertainment. There’s both a kind of broad consumer angle and hopefully viral phenomenon here,” Edwards said. “For now, it’s really meant to sit next to your computer or your bed. It’s not really a pocket thing, but those will come.”

The fundraiser for the oPhone will be online through July 31, and the first commercial versions are already available for pre-sale. The company expects to deliver the devices by sometime in 2015. The oPhones retail at $150, according to the makers.

You smell that? That’s the smell of Instagram food photos getting way more realistic.