Google Nose: Is There Truth To The Joke?

  • "Nose" is this year's ingenious prank from Google
  • Shines a light on the power of smell in advertising
  • Is this a technology we will one day see (or smell) for real?

Yesterday Google added a new option to their search bar. Accompanying the well known search tools "Images", "Maps" and "News" was a new entry: "Nose". While perhaps not as cool as Google Glass, it's a new technology that can generate smells based on search terms. Chuck in 'Jacuzzi' and you're met with an option to experience an aroma of "chlorine with a hint of romance".

If you haven't guessed as much yet, its Google's April fools prank for this year. Which would’ve been a sad realisation for those that happened upon it while searching for brownies. If you look closer though, there is an element of truth within this joke.


Google's fictional product page for Nose has a small section about "AdScent" (seen right) giving businesses the ability to include scents along with paid Google ads to entice buyers. While the whole Nose idea is completely and utterly fake, the notion of incorporating smell into advertising has been around for almost a century. Because let's face it, food ads would be insanely convincing if you got a whiff of what they were serving up on screen.

Since the popularization of the cinema people have been striving to capture and integrate our sense of smell into the audio-visual experience. Attempts to bring this to the masses has all but failed with technology like “Smell-o-Vision” (which sounds like a Simpsons punchline) and scratch and sniff cards that were cued to be scratched at certain parts of the film. Ultimately the idea suffered due to the effort required delivery on the views part to create the reproduced smells as well as the limited effect of the smells themselves.

The concept lost popularity shortly after the 1960s with both companies and the public losing interest. With the arrival of the internet over the past two decades, a completely new market has opened up with the possibility of seeing a benefit from a sense of smell. As the internet is distributed through a wide range of ever-changing technology, the chances of a scent producing technology being successfully adopted is much higher than old fashioned TV’s and cinemas.

Right now in Japan there is a team of scientists from the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology working on a computer monitor that can emit scents based on what is on screen. It’s a simple idea: a basic monitor with an apparatus of fans attached to each side. The fans are opposite to each other and when spinning create a flow of air that clashes and then rebounds from the screen towards the person viewing. The addition of smell is created by releasing scents into the fans when an action happens on the computer.

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Rather than market this solely as entertainment value like Smell-O-Vision or scratch and sniff alone, the new technology might find a better home in marketing. This is where Google Nose shines some light on the truth. Beyond the gimmicky fun involved in being able to generate scents from a computer, it would have an actual purpose in advertising. The financial backing and influence of advertising in turn could result in a wider adoption of the technology.

So someday we may actually be smelling our online ads. Beyond advertising it may cross over into film again, look at the re-emergence of 3D films in the past decade. Even video games would pose a good medium to take advantage of the technology. Unfortunately it may not be for a while yet though. There’s no release date on this technology so far and similar devices have release dates far in the future. The concept is interesting though and the public's reception for Google Nose might be a good indication of whether or not we are actually ready for it.


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