Warby Parker. Should You Worry About Their Newest App? (Interview)

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How will IPhoneX’s face scan technology impact the optical industry?

One recent entrant that has managed to make a lot of noise with their iPhone X app is Warby Parker.

Opticians are buzzing, especially in the US. Europeans, as well, are keeping a close eye on this app. Warby claims to take maps of people’s faces and, using the data, recommends styles of glasses that will best fit your face. As recent testimonials indicate, the effectiveness of the app to make accurate predictions of what will fit or what the customer will like is debatable.

“When I tried “Find Your Fit,” the app came back with 11 suggestions. This is still too many for my taste, but when you consider there are over 50 styles, to begin with, it’s a far more manageable selection. The only time I ran into trouble was when I tried to use the tool while standing in front of a white wall. Though it appeared to work just fine, the app returned over 30 suggestions of frames to try, much more than when I tried doing it anywhere else. My only other complaint: “Find Your Fit” did not recommend the Chamberlain pair that I currently own, leading me to question my existing fit.”

That’s because Apple has restricted access to high-resolution 3D scan results used for Face ID (for security reasons). The mesh, overlaid on faces in the Warby Parker’s app, is in much lower resolution.

Due to the low resolution, Warby Parker’s app ability to derive measurement data and offer correct fit suggestions is limited. Race, gender, age, ethnicity, size and position of eyebrows, nor eye, hair, or skin color are readable by the app, all critical data points opticians use in their craft.

Face scanning to assist the eyewear selection process was introduced several years ago by companies like youmawo.com and rogerbacon-eyewear.com. These companies use an Apple iPad and Structure Scanner to perform the scan and fit adjustment process.

The main benefit of iPad Structure Scanners is they are inexpensive and consumers are familiar with them. The main drawbacks are, they require the optician to walk around the consumer taking several minutes to perform the scan and only offering +/- 5mm resolution which significantly limits fitting accuracy.

Mykita offers a professional, if somewhat ominous looking, face scanner.

Is Face Mapping the Future of Optical Industry?

To find out this, I’m having a fruitful discussion with Eyewear Technology Expert Dennis G Zelazowski at 3DNA Eyewear.

TP: I‘m speaking with Dennis G Zelazowski, based in Hong Kong, CEO of Eye-DNA. Could you tell more about your experience?

DZ: I am a 3rd generation optician, inventor of Chemistrie lenses, founder of Eyenavision, and co-founder of 3DNA eyewear. Over the past four years, we’ve been developing the 3DNA eyewear design app and desktop manufacturing system. We are always scanning the radar for emergent technology in optical industry.

TP: Warby Parker has recently announced they‘re implementing face-mapping technology into their Mobile Application. Is this the future? 

DZ: Advancements and technology will continue to disrupt and evolve traditional businesses, and eyewear is no exception. Big players like Warby and forward-thinking independent opticians eager to win over the next generation of consumers have already waded into the digital realm.

TP: Opticians seem afraid of Warby Parker. Should they worry about it? Should they start creating similar applications as well? 

DZ: As Jeff Bezos said twenty years ago, “shopping at the strip mall is boring,” and picking out frames from a wallboard is just about the most boring and dreaded shopping experience for consumers and opticians alike.

Online eyewear companies let people pick from digital frame boards long ago, and their market share continues to increase every year. If opticians don’t provide a compelling and innovative process for picking eyewear, they will continue to lose market share. Face scanning and recommendation engines are a powerful weapon that opticians and online players alike can yield in their battle to claim market share, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

It is within the eyewear selection experience itself, where professional independent opticians can most effectively compete against online-only companies.

“If opticians don’t provide a compelling and innovative process for picking eyewear, they will continue to lose market share.” – Dennis G Zelazowski

TP: What is the idea behind the Warby Parker App? 

Firstly, it’s a PR tactic to ‘ride the wake’ of Apple’s hotly anticipated IPhoneX product launch. The effect of the PR strategy is to raise awareness of the company and attract people into purchasing via this app. As we can see it’s working very well as many people are talking and retweeting about it in social media. In that sense, it is a big success.

The general idea of this app seems to be computer-aided eyewear suggestion or it’s simulation. A computer takes your picture, analyses your face, and suggests what will look good or fit you. It does this in a very limited way and based upon the low level data, there are significant limitations to the outcome.

IPhoneX captures high-resolution data but currently only provides developer access to low-resolution face meshes. As a result, the app is limited in precision and accuracy. The simulation effect alone, though, is enough for consumers to overlook technical limits. Future iterations, however, will overcome these limitations as 3rd parties develop apps that directly access the high-resolution sensor data.

TP: What are some other technologies related to computer aided eyewear fitting?

“Virtual Try On” is another tech that has been popular among online eyewear providers. “Try On Eyewear” apps have been created whereby customers can simulate trying on a pair with their 2D image or a web camera video feed. Earlier versions of VTO were web and browser-based.

Newer VTO offerings that work on mobile devices have an animation-like presentation, similar to Snapchat. This tech relies on computer vision to simulate eyewear overlayed on video feed. There are various levels of resolution and realism presented by these applications, and for some online retailers and consumers, they work. Other companies use photogrammetry, where a series of 2D photos construct a 3D model, for the try-on process.

A set of different individuals scanned with IPhoneX is shown on the top row of this photo. Can one tell these are four different people or identify them? The bottom row shows a comparison of photogrammetry, IPad Structure, and 3DNA.

TP: How is 3DNA eyewear different?

DZ: Insofar as most online eyewear tech has tried to cut out the opticians, taking their expertise out along the way, we go the opposite direction. The try-on eyewear concept (take on, take off, repeat) is just a new way to do the same old thing. Whether in the shop or over the mobile phone, the end result is similar. Virtual Try On is basically that, it’s just “Try on glasses.”

3DNA, on the other hand, is the creative process of engagement and participation. Fundamentally, we see creation as the core empowering experience, so we aim to transform eyewear selection from passive A/B choosing, to interactive collaboration. This is a lot more fun; it’s a learning experience, it’s a “doing” experience. Optician and consumer, together with 3DNA app, actively design glasses exactly as they want to look and fit. The creative participation forms an emotional connection to the product, creates a compelling narrative, and lets the optician and the consumer take pride in what they have made, a truly cool pair of original eyewear. “I made this.”

3DNA technology leverages the power of the opticians to provide an experience for the consumers that as yet, cannot be offered via an online site.

TP: Thank you!

Is FaceMapping a future of our industry? What are your ideas?

 

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This article was originally published on November 28, 2017, on LinkedIn.

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