Imagine the day when a mirror tells you what shade of lipstick to wear. That day has already arrived at Boots stores in the U.K. and a handful of Wal-Marts here in the U.S.
With more than 15 years experience testing hardware (and being obsessed with it), Crave freelance writer Matt Hickey can tell the good gadgets from the great. He also has a keen eye for future technology trends. Matt has blogged for publications including TechCrunch, CrunchGear, and most recently, Gizmodo. Matt is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CBS Interactive. E-mail Matt.
People who wear makeup (I would have typed "ladies," but this is 2010, after all) might have a new shopping buddy. A system that's powered by IBM technology and being marketed by a company called EZFace uses augmented reality to help customers try on makeup without having to actually use any.
A "virtual mirror" takes a photo of a shopper's face. It then allows shoppers to scan in the barcode of a specific mascara, foundation, eye shadow, blush, lip gloss, and so on, and see how they would look with that makeup applied. It takes into account factors like skin tone, eye color, and lighting and even offers suggestions, basically allowing brands like L'Oreal and Maybelline to give virtual makeovers in the store.
The devices are being tested in Boots stores in the U.K. and in a handful of Wal-Marts here in the U.S. For Wal-Mart, the kiosks could lead to fewer returns. The retailer doesn't have samples available in its cosmetics aisles, meaning people sometimes end up with a shade of makeup that doesn't look so great after all. Also, the system eliminates the need for customers to keep applying and wiping off makeup samples and deal with other shoppers' germs.
EZFace has competition, though. Shiseido from Japan and Taaz here in the U.S. are both offering their own take on the virtual makeover. Shiseido has similar mirrors in Tokyo, and Taaz has a Web site that allows people to test different hairstyles and makeup at home.
We've already seen systems that let consumers try on clothes and various shoe styles virtually, and in the future we expect to see more augmented reality in retail. If the makeup mirrors are a success, EZFace has plans for similar devices for hair. Soon, shoppers might have entire virtual dressing rooms that help them pick complete outfits with clothes, shoes, makeup, and hair. But where's the fun in that?