Intel’s first mobile app for normal people is a cartoony messenger

Intel is entering the hyper-competitive mobile messaging world. On Thursday, it launched an app for iOS(s AAPL) and Android(s goog), called Pocket Avatars. It’s a messaging app combined with a feature that takes your face and superimposes it onto a cartoon avatar.

Pocket Avatars isn’t strictly the first Intel mobile app — the Intel Corporation has published a bunch of iOS and Android apps, but previously, all of them were for conferences or Intel news. This app is designed to reach the masses, and signals a new strategy for Intel as it tries to convince investors and consumers it does more than just make chips. “We’re going to be trying lots of new things,” Intel VP Mike Bell said.

The facial tracking technology works like this: If you’d like to send an animated note, one of the cameras on your phone will record your message audio as well as your facial expression. Intel’s technology then takes what your face did and transposes its gestures onto a cartoon avatar — like the pufferfish in the top art, or a Lego minifig or even Barack Obama’s face, all of which are available as in-app purchases. The cartoon can also blow a kiss or stick its tongue out with a swipe up or down. What makes Pocket Avatars different from other head-tracking novelty apps? “The math behind this is scary,” Bell said. “Our algorithms are so good it’s eerie what it can mimic.”

While it’s understandable that Intel would want a piece of the white-hot messaging space, I don’t know if it’s a good fit for this kind of cartoon feature. It’s not that the idea or technology won’t work — if anything, the enduring popularity of Bitstrips shows that there’s a desire to share cartoon versions of ourselves. But little voice notes in messaging are less efficient than simply sending a text, and this type of amusement would work better if it were broadcast, perhaps on Twitter(s TWTR) or Facebook(s FB), which Pocket Avatars supports but hides inside a “share” menu. I think this kind of face-tracking tech would have the best chance for wide consumer adoption if broadcasting to Facebook were the default, instead of kludging it together with yet another way to send messages on our phones.

You can download Pocket Avatars on the App Store or Google Play now.