I'm nearsighted. In fact, I'm so nearsighted that at the ophthalmologist, I can't see the top letter without my eyeglasses. This has always made it hard to shop for eyeglasses. When I put on a pair I'm considering, I have to hold my face so close to the mirror to see what I look like that I really don't get a very good look at how the frame complements (or clashes) with my overall facial features. For this reason, my wife always insists on coming with me to the optometrist. She knows if she doesn't, I'm going to come home with something that just doesn't look right. Consequently, shopping for eyeglasses is a complicated procedure that involves aligning two busy schedules.


My own personal hassles with shopping for eyeglasses is what got me so excited about a recent social computer kiosk setup called "Social Sun" at Sunglass Hut. What makes this touchscreen kiosk social is that it includes a camera that not only takes photos of you in various frames, but also allows you to email them to people or post them on your Facebook or other social site page. That means when you're shopping for sunglasses, you could get opinions on your “look" in various frames from your spouse, family or friends. You could even email them to yourself, go home, spend a few days comparing how you look in various pairs, and then go back to the store and buy a pair. After all, sunglasses are an important decision. You have to look cool in them. I think they're one of the few things even men like to shop for.


Another feature of Social Sun is you can look at groups of images all at once that show you in various pairs of sunglasses. This allows you to compare how you look in different frames and different colors of frames. You can even go beyond the little touchscreen and use a large LCD screen at the store to get a better look.


I think the idea has legs for all kinds of retail applications. Hair salons could use it to enable customers to show off their latest hairdo before they even walk out the door. Clothing stores could use it to allow customers to get second opinions on how various fashions look on them from friends and family. Imagine if such a kiosk also took short videos. People could twirl around and see how something looked from every angle.


The company driving these social kiosks is Micro Industries, an Affiliate Member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. They're targeting a wide range of retail in-store applications with their Touch&Go* line of embedded computers and mCosm software. The product used for Social Sun is the Touch&Go Paige* 17 interactive computer. It features a 17" LCD touchscreen with 1280x1024 resolution and a wide viewing angle.


For its brains, it uses Intel® Core 2™ Duo processor. This is a smart choice because this processor is powerful enough to run multiple applications simultaneously while delivering fast, effortless graphics performance. Equally important, it runs cool enough for fanless operation. That's important in a store where you want to keep system sound levels to a minimum. And running cool generally means longer life in computers.


The Paige can connect to wired or wireless networks, whatever works best with a particular store. What's more, if the network goes down in a store, the system continues to take pictures of customers and display the pictures for them. That's the advantage of having a fully functional PC inside the system.


An application like this demonstrates that brick-and-mortar retailers have a great way to one up Internet retailers. The ability able to try things on, see yourself in them, and even garner opinions from friends over the Web — all without leaving the store — is very compelling. It's proof that the 15 billion intelligent connected devices predicted for 2015[1] won't just be applications running in the background of our lives, but enhance our social networking as well.


What do you think? Ready to go try on some sunglasses?

[1] John Gantz, "The Embedded Internet: Methodology and Findings," IDC, January 2009.