Commentary

Can Your Phone Measure Emotion?

Who says mobile technology is in a sophomore slump? The smartphone has become a control hub to emerging technologies, such as wearables, home appliances, cars and other products -- opening the door to the Internet of Things and setting the stage for a new wave of innovation.

To capitalize on these new, networked connections among people, processes, data and things, marketers must stay ahead of the curve -- and that’s not always easy. Between new device capabilities that mobile companies are racing to patent and produce and ever-evolving functionality within the phone itself (e.g., location, video, new rich media ad units) it can be hard to pinpoint what new technologies really matter for advertising.

What new technologies will help mobile advertisers target and engage customers -- and how? Here is one that caught our eye: emotion estimation.

Your phone is about to become a lot more personal

One of the leading phone manufacturers of Android smartphones has been working on an emotion estimation application that can detect and analyze the emotions of a caller during a voice or video call.

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The technology behind the app is very straightforward. While analyzing a voice call, the app analyzes your tone and cadence and matches it against an arsenal of pre-stored voice samples that will help it to qualify the caller’s emotional state. So if someone is speaking rapidly and in a high-pitched voice, the phone takes this frequency and tone to mean that he is anxious, or perhaps angry.

Similarly, to determine the emotional state of a caller during a video call, the phone relies on pre-stored visual sample information to identify the caller’s facial patterns. So if the caller is smiling, the phone will be able to recognize her state of being as good, or happy.

Actions on the phone will convey emotional state

Experiments are underway with software that would allow a smartphone to indirectly read the user’s emotion through the cell phone use and context. The software would monitor certain inputs, such as how fast the user is typing, how often he or she hits the “backspace” button or implements special symbols into the content, and how much the device shakes.

Research shows correlations between these types of behavior and one’s emotional state. The device’s algorithms would be able to detect these behaviors and ultimately determine the user’s mood.

A sentient smartphone?

Emotion estimation would inherently bring a new level of connectivity between the user and his mobile device. Eventually, if the technology became advanced enough, the mobile device could theoretically interact with the user, changing its behavior according to what it determines is the user’s emotional state of being.

Imagine if your smartphone was able to assess that you were “annoyed” -- even better than your friends, colleagues or partner can? It might then be programmed to take action accordingly, like change your ringtone to something more soothing. Maybe it knew you were really stressed at a certain time of day and took it upon itself to give your screen a complete makeover, changing the colors and hues to calmer, cooler tones that are easier on the eyes. It almost would feel like your phone “got you” and was, in a strange way, taking care of you. Emotion estimation technology could instill a sort of compassion into your mobile device that ultimately enhances your relationship with the phone.

If it can read you, it can serve you

Emotion recognition technology could potentially become an entry point for more elaborate methods of marketing through sophisticated mobile advertising campaigns. Not only would advertisers be able to accurately identify users, they would be able to understand their emotions and personalize their individual experiences using intelligent adaptive interfaces.

If you were feeling happy and energetic, you would most likely respond punchy advertisements that may incorporate things like augmented reality features to interact with. Or if you were feeling frustrated, the content of those ads would change accordingly; for instance, you might be served ads for products or services that would help change your mood and offer an escape from frustration, such as massages, vacations or even headache medicine or soothing herbal teas.

It will also afford the ability to find people in an emotional state when they are more open to a very specific marketing message and even more importantly, when they are not.

Although the advertising uses of emotion estimation technology are still being determined, as there are plenty of kinks to work out when it comes to privacy, the way it allows your phone to “read” your emotional state holds a lot of promise for creating highly customizable user experiences.

 

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