NEW YORK — Intel is getting into the mobile messaging game — though it doesn’t look like what you’d expect.

At a media breakfast this morning, Intel unveiled Pocket Avatars, a new mobile messaging app for sending video messages with animated avatars that mimic your face. It’s now available for free on iPhone and Android.

Pocket Avatars, Intel’s first product for mobile, is a cross between traditional messaging apps and existing face mimicking apps (which seem to be a hit with kids). You can send plain text messages with the app, but its real draw is the ability to choose from a variety of animated avatars that will mimic your facial expressions.

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In a brief demo today, an Intel representative recorded a short message for the audience and played it back using one of the avatars. It managed to believably recreate subtle movements of his face, including the way his eyebrows moved and his smile.

Below, check out a brief demonstration of the app by Intel’s Mary Smiley, director of the company’s emerging platforms lab.

Intel Pocket Avatar Demo

Pocket Avatars currently features 40 different avatars, most of which are free. The rest are available for 99 cents. Intel is also partnering with popular brands for the avatars, including the Lego Group, Jim Henson Company, and Annoying Orange.

“The math behind this is scary,” Mike Bell, Intel vice president and general manager of new devices, said during the demonstration. “The algorithms behind here are so good that it’s scary what it can mimic. … And we have plans to make it more lifelike.”

After joining Intel four years ago, Bell says he unearthed the facial tracking technology behind Pocket Avatars in the company’s labs. The app is certainly a very different take on mobile messaging, and it has the potential to be huge with kids. But with established players like Whatsapp and Tango already dominating, it’ll be tough for Intel to break in with teens and young adults, the core audience for messaging apps.

“This isn’t a one-off, this isn’t a publicity stunt,” Bell said. “We’re going to try lots of new products like this.”

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