In the world of connected commerce, much of the technology seems to have been ripped straight from science fiction. Cars that drive themselves, drones buzzing through the air, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered assistants that are always ready to jump in with a suggestion or service, robots everywhere — it can all feel a bit like reality is trending toward Star Trek at an ever-faster pace.
But, every so often, an innovation inspired by another genre entirely manages to take the field and steal our collective attention. While one may tend not to think of Las Vegas in general — or the annual CES tech conference, in specific — as a place to go and have a “fairly tale” experience, it is almost undeniable that the most buzz-generating product seems ripped straight from the pages of a fable: Snow White.
While all fairy tales, particularly those told by Disney, are full of princes, princesses, songs, animal sidekicks, magical interventions and an abundance of chances to wear a ballgown, Snow White has two things no other fairy tale has. The first is the Seven Dwarves, and the second — and more relevant to this story — is the magic mirror.
That object is undeniably the fiercest accessory in any fairy tale kingdom.
Most mirrors will tell a person how they look, but the magic mirror in Snow White does one better: It also offers commentary. Granted, that commentary does not turn out to be all the helpful, since its information that the Queen's rival, Snow White, was now more beautiful than her set off an awful lot of unpleasantness involving a poisoned apple.
It's difficult to back how the Queen put the mirror to use in the story — she clearly overreacted, and badly — but it's also hard not to kind of want an opinionated mirror of one's own when reading it or watching the movie. We mean a nice, in-house talking mirror for non-evil purposes, like asking whether a new shade of lipstick is working out.
As the world saw at CES this week, though, technology appears to have delivered what magic has failed to.
The Mirror As Critic
There were, in fact, many smart mirrors at CES this year. CareOS showed off a version that features facial recognition, 4-D imaging and touchless interaction to scan consumers' makeup and direct them to tutorials on how best to apply it. Kohler's smart mirror is designed as a field general for a bathroom full of connected products, because a morning ritual is obviously enhanced by one's toothbrush taking its orders directly from one's mirror.
But only one product was built specifically to tell a customer what was wrong with her, and in much greater detail than simply noting Snow White is prettier. That product is the HiMirror, a connected device which photographs and scans a user's face for imperfections, then returns instructions about the elements on which she needs to work.
Even its designers admitted, in a conversation with PYMNTS from the CES floor, that the HiMirror looks a bit more like a tablet than a magic mirror — but its goals are no less reflective. After photographing the user's face, the mirror scans it to find dark circles, red spots, dark spots, pores, wrinkles, fine lines and roughness. The higher a percentage score a user nets in an area, the worse that area is.
Being designed as a helper, the mirror then makes useful suggestions. One user who tested it at CES noted it registered her copious under-eye circles, then recommended a good night's sleep and a stronger concealer.
While a regular mirror probably could achieve much the same ends — though with somewhat less precision — the HiMirror's smarts go beyond what it identifies.
A Context For Commerce
More than a mechanized voice of judgment, the tablet-turned-mirror wants to help its users improve. This means it can find makeup tutorials specifically tailored to the user's specific beauty issues, and it's wired to be Alexa-compatible so the virtual assistant is always on hand for a commerce consult. Need concealer for those dark circles? Alexa to the rescue, and she's on hand with a single command to make sure the recommended concealer is on its way.
The HiMirror also can be used to scan the barcodes of various skincare and cosmetic supplies, and the system can keep track of when something needs to be ordered and when something has aged out of usefulness.
It appears the smart mirror is entering a field that is suddenly of high interest. Panasonic's smart mirror is also built to scan flaws and recommend products, but HiMirror is looking to build an ongoing relationship with its users by encouraging daily selfie-snap so long-term skincare and cosmetic goals can be set and reached.
Will it change the way people get ready in the morning? Do consumers really want to live in a world in which not only is everyone a critic, but every thing is, too? That remains to be seen.
But, in some sense, every mirror is a critic anyway — smart or not — and at least HiMirror is also looking to make helpful suggestions.