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Intel launches messaging app using cartoons to mimic sender's face

By Noel Randewich

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Intel Corp is getting into voice instant messaging with a smartphone app that uses facial tracking technology to caricature a sender's expressions.

Pocket Avatars was launched on Thursday by Mike Bell, an Intel senior executive whose job is to make sure the world's largest semiconductor maker is at the front of future technology trends after arriving disastrously late to smartphones and tablets.

The app uses a smartphone's camera and microphone to record a short message while mapping the speaker's facial expressions onto one of several cartoon characters. The message is then sent to the recipient, who can play it, complete with the avatar's head movements, smiles and blinks.

In an interview, Bell described the app, which is free on Android smartphones and iPhones, as a way to demonstrate facial tracking technology that could appear on future Intel platforms such as laptops or tablets.

"Rather than let it sit in a lab and languish, we thought 'wouldn't it be cool to show people,'" Bell said of the technology. "It's fun and easy to explain what it does, but it's actually pretty complex behind the scenes."

Intel's core market, the PC industry, is languishing and the chipmaker is far behind rivals such as Samsung Electronics and Qualcomm in mobile chips.

(Reporting by Noel Randewich)

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