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When Draper-based mail order company, 1-800-CONTACTS, created a division to sell glasses online, there was one inherent problem with the idea — how do you get customers to try on new frames if they're shopping online?

The new division,, came up with a unique solution that took nearly four years and a lot of technology to create. They produced an iPad app that allows you to scan your face into the tablet and then try on virtual versions of different frames. With the free app you can turn your head with the swipe of your finger and even tilt the glasses down your nose to give that professorial look. You also can send pictures of yourself wearing the new frames to friends so they can help you pick. You then can buy what you like straight from the app and also include the prescription if they're for corrective lenses.

"People want a sense for their glasses. They want to know how they look and how they feel," said John Graham, senior vice president and general manager of, which also is based in Draper. "The point of this is we're trying to change the way people shop for glasses." was created in June 2011 to sell frames and lenses online. To address the problem of letting people try on their frames before buying them, the company created a policy that allows customers to ship up to four frames to their home to try on for free and then send back the ones they don't want.

The company was growing and now has nearly 100 employees (1-800-CONTACTS has nearly 900 workers, including those at

"It's over 100 percent growth year over year," Graham said. "It's obviously growing quickly."

Several years ago, executives learned about a new Microsoft software program called Photosynth that could generate a 3-D model from a series of digital photographs.

"That's where we started thinking. If [the Photosynth developers] can create the Notre Dame from a bunch of pictures on the Internet . . . we should be able to flip that and do the same thing with a face," Graham said.

With the help of outside developers, including some who work with Hollywood special effects, the engineers at began creating their app.

The app involves taking video of the user turning his or her head with the iPad lying flat on a wall mirror. From the 300 or so pictures taken for the video, 15 frames are selected — one of the subject centered, one each looking far right and left, and six in between for each side.

The user then points the iPad camera at the mirror and aims an orange box on the screen at a QR code in the mirror's reflection. This is to tell the app where your eyes are and acts as a kind of 3-D ruler.

The app then performs a 3-D wire mesh of the face and performs complicated computations to turn the video into a 3-D model of the head turning from side to side, which you can control with the swipe of a finger on the iPad screen.

"The biggest piece is the ability to try the frames on without having to physically try them on, and I can look at four of them at the same time," said 37-year-old Gene Padilla, a data analyst from Indianapolis who has used the app and may buy sunglasses with it. "I don't always get a great feel being in a sunglasses store and looking in the mirror. That always feels odd, and this takes that away."

The app was released last week and already has been featured as one of iTunes' "New and Noteworthy" apps and has been downloaded more than 50,000 times. By Monday, it was the second-most-downloaded free Lifestyle app on iTunes and overall the 28th most-downloaded free app.

While it's only available for the iPad and iPad mini, Graham said the company is working on a version for Android tablets and phones as well as the iPhone. He also said they want the software to eventually work on desktop computers.

The one thing the app does not address, however, is how the glasses will feel on your head and how they will work with specific prescription lenses. For that it may be best to get help from an optician, said Dr. Craig Poulter, vice president of the Utah Optometric Association.

"The app would fit into the DIY category," he said. "But for optimum performance it would be best to have a professional help you."

Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi —

Video online

O Watch a video about the glasses app at

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