When operating a smartphone, three of the five senses are used: touch (manipulating the screen), hearing (listening to music or a show — or just participating in that old-fashioned activity known as a phone call) and sight (viewing photos or video on the high-resolution display).
The other two senses — taste and smell — may not come into play, but Tokyo-based Scentee Inc. wants to change that. It is releasing a gadget to the market next month that will make smell a part of the smartphone experience.
The attachment, also called the Scentee, emits a scent in accordance with how the phone is being used. It is believed to be the world’s first such device for smartphones.
Having already created a buzz, especially overseas at a Spanish trade show, the firm has high hopes for the Scentee when it’s released Nov. 15.
The device, which is plugged into the earphone jack, has a tank that can puff out a scent about 100 times.
The Scentee can act as a simple scent diffuser if the user sets the device to spray automatically at specific times, for instance when one is getting up in the morning. But it can also be a communications tool, which the manufacturer aims to improve further.
For example, the app that drives the device can work with Facebook and Scentee users can make it emit a pleasing aroma when their entries get a “Like,” or customize it further to do so every 50 or 100 “Likes.”
“We hope to facilitate the Scentee as a communications tool . . . so we want to develop an SNS application” that is focused on scents, said Masaru Tange, chief executive officer of Shift Inc, the parent of Scentee Inc.
The idea of a gadget that could let users enjoy scents while using their smartphones was initially floated around 2010, according to Aki Yamaji, a corporate planning division manager at Shift.
“At first, it was really just an idea and we were talking about how it would be cool if there was this kind of thing” that enabled people to enjoy smells with their mobile phone, she said.
Although Shift is a software maker, Tange’s background in hardware manufacturing helped the firm make the idea a reality. About a year later, in May 2011, the company put together a team to take a serious stab at producing such a device, and the Scentee was born.
It was during the Mobile World Congress in Spain that year when the firm realized the product’s market potential.
“We received a huge reaction from people around the world. They said they wanted to become distributors of the Scentee . . . we thought this can really be a hit product overseas, ” Yamaji said of their experience at the world’s largest mobile trade show.
Scentee Chief Executive Officer Koki Tsubouchi said his firm has already been in talks with many interested parties. He refused to disclose any details but hinted that they include globally popular cosmetics brands.
He said the head of one such firm was astonished when he saw the Scentee.
“I think experts in the ‘scent business’ are not necessarily familiar with information technology, so it might be an unknown field to them,” Tsubouchi said.
Currently, the firm is planning two business models with the Scentee, Tsubouchi said. One is to sell cartridges of various aromas, such as rose, lavender, jasmine and strawberry.
They will be priced at ¥500, and the company plans to let third parties sell them as well by selling them empty cartridges. The Scentee itself will be sold at ¥3,480.
Another strategy is to collect data on when and where people diffuse what kind of scent and build a big database.
Tsubouchi believes that once his firm creates this database, many companies doing business in relation to scents will come calling.
The attachment will also allow these firms to send out samples of their products in cartridges and then, because smartphones are involved, quickly get reactions from around the world, he said.
There are other ideas, too, such as using GPS to diffuse scents when they approach certain places while driving, he said.
In the meantime, Scentee is planning to introduce an application called Hana Yakiniku (Nose Barbecue) when the device debuts next month.
The app provides video images of meat being grilled and causes the Scentee to emit a scent of barbecued meat.
People interested in this app will need to buy a package of three cartridges containing the smell of barbecue rib, tongue and potatoes with butter.
Tsubouchi said business opportunities for smartphone accessories are growing.
Japan’s smartphone accessory market will grow to ¥145 billion by 2016, he predicted, a 96 percent increase from 2012.
“The culture of spending money for smartphone accessories is becoming stronger,” he said.