Inventor's Adjustable Glasses Could Spark Global Correction

LEAD STORY-DATELINE: The Wall Street Journal, October 14, 1998.

After spending 13 years working on it, Prof. Silver has finally developed a low-cost alternative to the traditional vision-correction glasses. This dynamic new product also does away with the need for a vision test, a visit to an optician, or an expensive prescription. The lenses for these glasses are made from pairs of transparent membranes (made of Mylar, an inexpensive plastic made by DuPont), filled with a colorless silicone fluid. The fluid is contained in two circular "focus adjusters" attached to the spectacle frame. The power of the lenses can be adjusted by twirling the adjusters. Twirling action injects the silicone fluid through a tiny hole in the frame. A thinner lens that reduces magnification can correct farsightedness and a thicker lens that increases magnification can correct nearsightedness. After each eye has been properly focussed, the adjusters are snapped off, sealing the hole, and the glasses are then ready for use!

Prof. Silver, a physicist at Oxford University, wants to position his new product as a low-cost alternative to the more expensive traditional glasses that require optician visits and prescriptions. He hopes to sell these glasses in third world countries where the need for basic vision correction is pressing (among middle-aged and older people) but there are few eye-care facilities and a large section of the population cannot afford the more expensive traditional glasses. Lack of correct vision can shave years off a person's working life especially in professions like tailoring and carpentry.

The adjustable glasses are superior to traditional ones as they do not need to be personalized (the buyer can do that on his/her own). Thus they can be sold as a regular consumer product. They are also cheaper, costing about $10 a piece. One of the limitations of these new glasses, though, is that they cannot cure astigmatism, which is caused by an irregular curvature of the eye lens.

Market trials in Africa have been encouraging. Prof. Silver has put together a management team that is currently working on making this project a commercial success.


TALKING IT OVER AND THINKING IT THROUGH!

  1. New product introductions and technological innovations are a significant source of competitive advantage for a number of companies. Still, a majority of new product introductions fail in their very first year of commercialization. One of the reasons cited for this high rate of failure is that these new products did not offer any differential advantage over existing competing products. Based on this article, highlight how the new adjustable glasses offer differential advantages over traditional glasses? Does the target segment care about these advantages?

  2. Market segmentation and proper target market selection can be key determinants of new product success. Has Prof. Silver segmented his market? If yes, what are the bases of segmentation?

  3. Can the developers of new products draw any generalizable conclusions from this article? In other words, can some lessons be drawn from Prof. Silver's innovation that can be applied across a broad spectrum of industries for new product development?


THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE!

The project is still in its market trial stage. What do you think are the chances that this new product will be a commercial success? What marketing mix variables will have to be in place to make this project successful? First, distribution of this new product will have to be radically different from its traditional counterpart. As this product is targeted towards people who do not have access to optometrists, one cannot obtain any sizeable level of market coverage through conventional distribution channels. The new product has to be distributed like some of the more common OTC drugs (e.g., Tylenol or Aspirin). As a sizeable portion of the target population is likely to be uneducated, it will be challenging to educate them regarding how to use the product (the initial calibration). Information on product's durability and how will it work under different climatic conditions is not available from the article. If either of these presents a constraint or a problem, that will have to be addressed too.


DIGGING DEEPER!

As mentioned before, one of the generalizable ideas for new product development would be to come up with products that do away with the need to purchase the accompanying service. One excellent application of this concept was reported in the media recently ("Who Needs Doctors? The Boom in Home Testing"). Market for home testing products for a range of medical tests is booming. Till some time ago, this market was restricted only to pregnancy test kits and diabetes glucose monitoring. However, one can now at home, without having to visit a doctor or a clinic, do things like checking cholesterol level, checking if a teenager is on drugs, screening for colon cancer, and even ascertaining as to who is the biological father of a kid (by sending a cotton swab wiped on the kid's lips to a test lab!). All these home test kits not only save a trip to the doctor, they also help minimize the embarrassment that some people may feel for getting some of these tests done.

Recycling used glasses has also received attention recently. LensCrafters, a Cincinnati based company in the vision correction industry, is working towards its goal of helping one million people see better by the year 2003 ("The Gift of Sight"). It collects used glasses for recycling, donates new glasses, and once a year offer free eye exams to the needy people. An alternative to wearing eyeglasses has been made possible by recent technological developments. Surgeons can now use laser beams for vision correction ("Zapping the Eye"). This new technology can provide stiff competition to the conventional glasses industry. Read more about factors that may help new products succeed and how new products get adopted in the market place in "Diffusion of Innovations."


SOURCES:

Evers, Peter. "Recording-Industry Vanguard Turns to Internet", The New York Times, September 21, 1998.

Halper, Evan. "Who Needs Doctors? The Boom in Home Testing", Newsweek, July 20, 1998.

Noble-Goodman, Katherine. "The Gift of Sight", Foundation News and Commentary, July/August, 1997.

Rogers, Everett. "Diffusion of Innovations", New York: The Free Press, 1983.


- Praveen Aggarwal