Eyewear companies and software vendors continue to flood the market with dozens of optical apps for smartphones. The apps run the gamut from providing basic information about frame and lens products to enabling users to assess visual acuity and take pupillary distance and other ocular measurements. You can even read 20/20 by downloading the 2020mag app for the iPad and iPhone at 2020mag.com/apps.

This proliferation of optical apps is a fascinating new way for our industry to engage consumers. Yet some eyecare professionals feel threatened by any app that allows consumers to measure their eyes or test their vision. One optician recently told me his colleagues regard these apps as a ticking clock that will limit their careers and doom them to obsolescence, much like typesetters and bookstore owners.

Being in the magazine publishing business, which is undergoing upheaval as apps and the Internet transform the way information is delivered, I appreciate such concerns. But in the case of optical apps, I’d argue that the positive aspects far outweigh the negative. Optical apps are stimulating consumer interest in eyewear and eyecare. Consumers who use them become more educated about the products and services they buy. The more educated they become, the more involved they become in their own eyecare.

Measuring one’s own PD with a smartphone may not be as accurate as having it done by an experienced optician using a good pupillometer and the optician’s own expert eye. But some of these apps take adequate measurements for single vision and bifocals, and are useful for consumers who are buying eyewear online. Opticians who criticize this as being ill-advised or even dangerous, yet sell OTC readers which don’t even require PD’s, should consider the contradiction. They can’t have it both ways.

—Andrew Karp