Now, a tiny San Francisco startup, Adamant Technologies, is trying to give your iPhone the senses of smell and taste, too.
The company has created a computer chip that works with a bunch of tiny sensors that "can take the sense of smell and taste and digitize them," explains Sam Khamis, Adamant's founder and CEO.
This is not about turning your smartphone into some kind of scratch-and-sniff thing that emits scent. It's about letting your phone or computer or other medical devices smell for themselves.
This was a pretty tricky problem to solve. A computer can easily identify a chemical in the air, but put a bunch of them together and it's stumped. For instance, humans can tell when there's pizza and chocolate chip cookies in the same room. Computers have a harder time with that.
The sense of smell he's developed is pretty sophisticated, too, he says. The average human nose has about 400 "sensors" that pick out various chemicals in the air and identify them (like knowing what pizza smells like). Adamant's tech has about 2,000 sensors, which is akin to a dog's nose, Khamis explained.
iPhone apps from Adamant are still some time away from being available, maybe one-to-two years. Right now, the San Francisco company, which is backed by legendary venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, is just beginning to mass produce its chips in a plant in Austin, Texas.
Next it will produce a consumer device that plugs into an iPhone and costs $100 or less. That device will then be used with all sorts of apps, including one that can warn you when your breath smells bad.
"Halitosis, or bad breath tracking, is something we're really interested in," he laughs. It's the kind of thing that not even "your best friend will tell you." The app will not only warn you, but tell you what caused it, he says.
Other planned apps include realtime metabolic tracking, meaning telling you exactly how many calories you are burning at any given moment. He also sees breathalyzer apps that can monitor medical conditions, like diabetes, or test blood alcohol.
Adamant raised $2.5 million from Khosla over the summer and will be seeking a bigger round later this year.