Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Shopping in the Future:’s Augmented-Reality Fitting-Room App

“Online shopping today is just a digital version of the Sears catalog from 100 years ago,” according to Jonathan Coon, co-founder and CEO of 1-800 Contacts. “The days of putting a photo of a product up on a white background with a price are over.”

So, what’s the alternative? Coon and his team have developed an in-home augmented-reality shopping experience for glasses, set to launch in April as an iOS app for

There have been all sorts of virtual fitting rooms over the years, but this is pretty nifty. set up a hallway exhibit at TED in Long Beach, Calif., to show how a beta version of the product will work in people’s homes.

This is a bit different from what I’d seen before, so, using myself as a dummy/model, let me walk you through what happens.

First, you download the app and hold your iPad out in front of you with the front-facing camera on.

You slowly turn your face to one side and then the other, while the camera captures some 300 to 450 frames. The app then isolates 15 key angles to build a manipulable 3-D representation of your head.

Then you take the iPad and hold up a screen with a QR code next to your face in front of a mirror. This determines the size of your face so the app can effectively scale the representation. Coon described it as a sort of inverted augmented reality. “We’re using the virtual to calculate the real thing for the first time,” he said.

Then comes a sort of personal fitting room, with pairs of various glasses superimposed on your own face, which you can swipe back and forth to see from different angles.

And then you’ll be able to pick and compare your favorites, ask friends to help you narrow them down and purchase glasses within the app. That seems far preferable, argued Coon, to “asking a stranger on commission for advice.”

Will people really download a full app just to make a single purchase? Coon admitted that he’s not sure. But, in his opinion, there’s a larger significance here.

“The real story here isn’t virtual try-on of glasses,” he said. “The application will be to augmented-reality shopping what ‘Toy Story’ was for computer-generated animated films.

“Prior to ‘Toy Story,’ CG was just used in a scene — it wasn’t 100 percent of a movie,” Coon said. “And it often wasn’t very good. ‘Toy Story’ was the first 100 percent CG animated film, the first to look good and the first to achieve commercial success.”

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