Want to do Thanksgiving by phone this year?


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [LC-USW3-011874-D]

Brace yourself.  Thanksgiving has arrived, and every form of social media is about to be taken over by the foodie in all of us.  Soon enough, a good part of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will be flooded with photos of gooey pecan pie, marshmallow-topped yams, and bowls of every dimension spilling over with cranberry sauce and thick, creamy gravy.  Of course, no Instagram would be complete without at least several portraits of the holiday bird.

For those of us who can’t make it home for the holidays, these photos are not only mildly annoying, but also frustrating.  If only we could get just a whiff of our mother’s mashed potatoes, maybe home wouldn’t seem so far away.  Well, by Thanksgiving 2015, the technology may exist to do just that — to send scent messages via your average smartphone.

Efforts to electronically recreate the olfactory experience are not exactly new; does Smell-O-Vision or iSmell ring a bell?  If not, it’s probably because few, if any of these technologies, have gotten it right.  But Dr. David Edwards of Vapor Communications believes he is on to something with his new oPhone.  And the device certainly set tongues wagging — and salivating — this summer when it transmitted the first transatlantic scent message between New York and Paris.  The aroma of choice?  Champagne and macaroons, naturally.

The oPhone, Photo courtesy of Vapor Communications

“Biologically we respond powerfully to aroma, so if we become familiar with the design of aromatic communication we might be able to say things we couldn’t before,” says Edwards.  How about: “Happy Thanksgiving, and here’s what you’re missing at home”?  Well, we’re not exactly there yet, but one may suspect it’s only a matter of time.

As of now, the oPhone can generate over 300,000 unique aromas, and Edwards believes this number will grow exponentially as he and his team continue to improve upon its design.  The oPhone DUO is due out in April.

So, how does it work?  For the user, the oPhone is fairly straightforward.  One simply downloads the company’s free iPhone app and then photographs the object he or she wants the recipient to smell.  After the user tags the so-called oNote with the appropriate scents, the recipient can experience them almost immediately using an oPhone device (click here for a visual).


Closeup of the oPhone, Photo courtesy of Vapor Communications

On the technological side, the process is a bit more complicated, but nothing Harvard professor and idea man David Edwards couldn’t engineer; Edwards is the same creative mind behind Wikipearls, the popular edible food wrappers cropping up at grocery stores like Whole Foods.  Each oPhone holds 8 circular cartridges called oChips, which work in concert to generate unique smells.  And unlike older technologies, those smells do not linger in the air, but instead diffuse quickly, so as not to overpower the next scent message once it arrives.

Can’t wait until 2015 for your own oPhone?  Well, there are a number of oPhone HotSpots in the United States and France.  But if you’re willing to make the trip to one of these locations for your Thanksgiving aroma fix, maybe you should just head home and experience the real thing.