Aiming For The Augmented Me

“Honey, what are you trying to tell me?” my wife asks as I show her an image of myself on the iPhone, apparently made up to the hilt with night black cat’s eyelids, glossy red lipstick and blush that (if I do say so myself) highlights my cheeks quite well. I am always afraid they seem too high on my face.

“Is there something about you I didn’t know when I married you?”

“WHAT AND WHY???” My daughter texted me when I sent her the picture.

No one seemed to get the Jack Lemmon/Some Like It Hot reference in my bugging eyes and lip pucker. Apparently that wasn’t what either of them was getting out of the picture.

“We are on our way to a Yes concert, honey. This was your birthday gift, remember? I am putting on makeup for you and everything. Why now to come out on me? You couldn’t keep the cross-dressing in the closet until tomorrow?”

“What eyeliner are you using? You know if you start by outlining the lid and filling in you get a sharper look that really pops.”

“I am getting concerned.”

Well, what does she expect? I just got a crash course in eye design from L’Oreal’s wonderful Makeup Genius app for iOS. In addition to getting me up to speed on how to get that smoky eye look, the app’s key feature is how it uses advance scanning and augmentation techniques to show how different looks and beauty products will appear on your face.

We are a far cry from the technologies we have seen thrown at this idea in the past. For years I tested some of these tools from a range of magazines and makeup vendors. Generally you looked like a Colorforms project, with misplaced and misshapen pieces plastered onto your uploaded facial image. This app really does scan your face accurately to tag and track your main eye, cheek and lip features. I could do the Jack Lemmon pucker and the app perfectly tracked and fitted my chosen products to my facial features.

“You know. if you are a drag queen, I hate to be the one to tell you that you are really bad at it,” my wife continues.

I knew I was too pale for that transparent a blush. My skin color has always been a weak spot for me. I need to go darker.

The level of technology and the application L’Oreal evidences in this app raises some interesting possibilities for personal augmentation on mobile devices. Another similarly impressive app I have highlighted here before is Nito. This ingenious tool also maps your face in order to overlay a cartoon character that animates your facial gestures and speech into a short recorded message. Intel just released a very similar experiment call Pocket Avatars. 

Both apps, and mobile technology’s ability to augment and play with our very identity, underscores how this platform can touch our sense of self in unique ways. Avatars have been a part of the virtual space for decades now, of course. But mobile makes the notion more operational. It certainly opens up a key path for media and marketing developers.  

The many ways in which this most “personal” mobile medium is indeed “personal” are only becoming clear as we see developers experiment. “Personal” and “intimate” are terms we toss around to generalize the unique relationship people seem to have with these devices. At one level we use these terms to reference how indispensable the smartphone has become to us, how deeply engrained it is with daily habits. But because of that intimacy these platforms are also letting us play with our notions of self, how we communicate with one another. The recent explosion in messaging app use should remind us that personal communication is still the driving force behind mobility -- connectedness to on another, not primarily connectedness to media. Connectivity and communication are also the paradigms of mobile. Giving people the tools to enhance, alter, and accelerate their connections with one another is one of the most powerful things a brand can do here.

Letting the user play with her “self” is among the most compelling ways a brand can be of use to her. And it is remarkably viral.

“It liked green for me,” my daughter messages back with a Makeup Genius snap of her own. She “had to have it” once I explained who turned her Dad into Auntie Steve. Once again, mobility provides a special way for people to connect. Father and daughter share the same virtual makeup case. 

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