The Value of the Vibrate Function
By Justin Hall, Tue Jan 13 20:30:00 GMT 2004

Las Vegas in January is awash in geeks - people that love technology, and people that make pornography. Between them exists potential for mobile erotic applications.

[Note: following some of the links in this article could readily lead to pages containing explicit sexual content]

Strutting in the shadows of the high-profile Consumer Electronics Show, the Adult Entertainment Expo showcases the media and technology innovations of the sex and pornography industries. For someone curious about the future of human expression through technology, the AEE can provide an eye-boggling alternative to the relatively sanitary CES.

So far wireless phones in the west have had few specifically erotic applications. People stimulate themselves with messaging and multimedia - dating, exchanging derriere photos. What more could the adult entertainment industry offer mobile internet users?

(mobile) Technologies of Desire

Like any other convention, the Adult Entertainment Expo has panel discussions. What's remarkable here is that a number of the industry legends up on stage had been jailed or shot for pursuing their trade. In spite of persecution and prosecution, these pornographers and sex educators are proud of their business. They see themselves liberating human neuroses about sex and facilitating wish fulfillment.
Photo: Q&A During the opening panel at the Adult Entertainment Expo, Las Vegas, January 2004

Towards this end, the sex industry is notably persistent and innovative with new technologies. This session touched on the rise of DVD, the emergence of broadband technology and streaming video on the web. But the mobile internet seemed to be off their radar.

I stood to ask a question during the Q&A: "The porn industry has pioneered so many media technologies. Here I have a fantastic mobile device. But I still haven't had a good erotic experience with my mobile phone."

Founder of the Hustler media empire, Larry Flynt replied immediately from his gold-plated wheelchair: "You must have the wrong phone!" His quick-witted drawl drew laughter from the crowd. Without specifying an application, he mused that he'd "rather do it at home, instead of out and about." Or at work, he added. Probably he meant watching pornography on the small screen. Sex performer and educator Nina Hartley spoke up in favor of social interaction: "The best erotic use of a [mobile] phone is to have a lover there." This would commend dating-type applications over centerfold browsing.

Quick-witted former sex performer and current editor/publisher of Adult Video News Tim Connelly reported that he had recently seen a flurry of activity around mobile porn and SMS services at the Venus Fair in Europe. Subscriptions and easy payment schemes make the mobile internet a no-brainer delivery device for erotic contents. He pointed out that if he's going to be "stuck in the airport for five hours while some guy goes through my socks" he'd prefer to see a sexy John Leslie film on his mobile device.

John Leslie is a notable actor-turned-director with a long history in the pornography industry. During his prepared remarks for the panel, he pointed out that DVDs have made porn viewing more non-linear. The attention span of audiences has shortened - plots are shrinking further in favor of action compiled around a fetish. Ten sex scenes with red-haired nurses, for example. These truncated media bits would make better mobile internet downloads than the entire 86 minutes of "The Opening of Misty Beethoven."

Sinulate: The Arrival of Teledildonics?

While they foresee a big presence for porn in our pockets, this panel of erotic media veterans had few innovative erotic applications to propose for mobile devices. No heady mix of social networking and glory holes, at least not yet. But there was one company on the show floor offering what might be the first exclusively wireless pleasure device. It may be a crude stab at true virtual sex, but it offers the power to manage a physical-sensual experience remotely.

Sinulate Entertainment has a U.S. patent (number 6,368,268) covering the "method and device for interactive virtual control of sexual aids using digital computer networks." Sex toys piloted over the internet, using a point-and-click control panel like the one pictured in this ad banner:
Sinulate Banner Ad

They've applied this technology to build the Sinulator - a set of devices and software for enabling remote sexual touch. A short cord attaches a vibrator to a wireless transmitter. Another wireless transmitter sits connected to a PC through USB. Anyone running a web browser can use Flash to control the intensity of the vibrations issued from the vibrator, and with more complicated vibrators, there are two settings that can be adjusted for various pleasure permutations. The person holding the sex toy can wander anywhere within 100 feet of a computer and still feel the buzzing set by their remote companion.

Sinulate Patent
Sinulate put a computer between people touching, demonstrated by this illustration from their patent. For people looking to make contact with far-flung friends, the Sinulator might offer some small potential physical impact. They chose to focus early sales and marketing of the Sinulate units on the boutique webcam business. You can see this from their early customer testimonials; mostly from webcam amateurs. These are individuals posing nude and performing from the homes, catering to fetishists online. The Sinulate allows them to add "directly dildo me" to their menu of online pleasures available for a price.

AEE photo, Las Vegas, January 2004Will consumers at large wish to reach out through the net to stroke and be stroked? Sinulate CEO Steve Rhodes (pictured right) looks eagerly at my Treo 600. "Does that thing run Flash?" he asks. Any device that can run Macromedia's common Flash protocol can take control of a vibrator over the internet. So now we might add "pilot a vibrator" to our list of activities to do while waiting in an airport.

Currently we can make most of our friends vibrate by calling them. The Sinulate extends that "reach out and touch" into sex toys, and allows us to set a throttle on the vibrations - slow and steady or fast buzzing. How about a Sinulate-esque throttle capacity built into mobile handsets? So we might purposefully direct the vibration of a lover's phone to build pleasure. This would blur the line between sex toys and ordinary mobile devices, effectively integrating sensual stimulation with commonplace consumer electronics.

Justin Hall travels and writes about human-technology integration, coordinated through his web node at He enjoys drawing pictures and writing poems on his CDMA Treo 600.