When you think of Intel, you normally think of PC chips, but the company is bucking expectations today with the release of a social app for iOS and Android called Pocket Avatars. The app offers video-like mobile messaging, but it relies on cartoon avatars to relay your facial expressions.

Intel VP Mike Bell told TNW that the firm’s Intel Labs division often comes up with futuristic new technologies that never become products. Bell, however, decided that the face-tracking system was too good to pass up. The company ran a beta test of the app last summer.

 Intel releases Pocket Avatars, a chat app that maps your facial expressions onto silly characters

Pocket Avatars uses your front-facing camera to record your message, then it combines your voice and expressions with one of over 40 characters, including Lego figures, Care Bears, Annoying Orange and Gumby. Roughly half the characters are available for free, while the others can be purchased in-app for $0.99 each. Messages can be sent via SMS, email and Twitter.

While the app might seem outside of Intel’s main business efforts, Bell said the company has “every intention to keep this going and improve upon it.” With messaging apps attracting billion-dollar valuations, it’s not out of the question that this could become a substantial revenue generator.

pc image smartphone slideshow myavatars 220x390 Intel releases Pocket Avatars, a chat app that maps your facial expressions onto silly characters“My group is chartered with getting Intel into non-traditional lines of business,” Bell noted. “We said, ‘Okay, everybody’s rushing out there to do the same sort of [messaging] thing. Let’s take the technology we have and have more fun.’”

Bell described the Pocket Avatars experience as looser and more expressive for users.

“People who have sent me messages are more relaxed,” he said. “It’s not like a video chat where people are worried how they look. It doesn’t require you to show yourself or your background or where you are, but it allows you to take on this alternate persona.”

Frankly, it’s nice to see Intel having a bit of fun with a consumer app. I doubt I’d pay for most characters, but I can see how playing around with the different avatars could be pretty addictive.

Pocket Avatars | iOS | Android

Image credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images