Google acquires North, maker of the Focals smart glasses

David Matthews

Posts: 397   +75
Staff member
Why it matters: Focals by North were stylish smart glasses that provided a pretty good user experience for a not so good price. While Focals addressed the privacy issues that other smart glasses had, North was unable to sell many units. Google's purchase of North will hopefully invigorate the smart glasses market and comes just as Apple could unveil their own competing glasses later this year.

Google today announced that they are acquiring North, a Canadian company best known for its Focals smart glasses. Google likely wants to incorporate Focals holographic tech into future hardware products.

"We’re building towards a future where helpfulness is all around you, where all your devices just work together and technology fades into the background. We call this ambient computing," SVP of Devices & Services Rick Osterloah said in a blog post. "North’s technical expertise will help as we continue to invest in our hardware efforts and ambient computing future."

As for the status of future Focals products, North said that they are "winding down Focals 1.0" and won't be shipping Focals 2.0. This will probably disappoint any potential buyers as some saw Focals as the solution to many of the pain points other smart glasses such as Google's own Glass product had.

The Focals mostly look like a regular pair of glasses. Unlike Google Glass or Snap's Spectacles, Focals don't have a camera drawing unwanted attention. Instead of using swiping gestures to navigate the holographic display, each pair of Focals came with a special ring that featured a small joystick to control the interface.

The biggest pain point with Focals was pricing. Originally one pair went for $1,000 before the company slashed the price to $600 last year. Even if you decided to splurge on it, potential buyers still had to physically visit one of the retail stores to get them custom fitted.

On a positive note, North employees will be able to stay in the Kitchener-Waterloo area and join Google's existing team there. Additionally, the company sent an email to existing customers saying that they will be refunding the full amount to anyone who bought Focals.

While the terms of the deal haven't been disclosed, Google reportedly paid about $180 million to purchase North according to Josh O'Kane of The Globe and Mail. North apparently sold very few Focals glasses and needed more cash.

We've previously reported about Apple's rumored AR glasses. Those are expected to come in at around $500 and look just like a regular pair of glasses, similar to Focals.

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QuantumPhysics

Posts: 3,747   +3,640
I'd say that smartglasses have the same problem regular glasses do. Some people don't want to wear them because they make the person look older - especially if they actually have a vision issue. Then there's the styling. Some people don't want to wear a smart item unless it goes with everything. I recently got my mom a black milanese loop for her smartwatch because the pink band didn't match the rest of her style and black did - for example. I don't want to have a pair of "white frames" that don't match my black clothing.

And then there's the prescriptions for the lenses. I haven't kept up with my glass prescriptions for distance reading. I've got two pairs of rimless frames somewhere that I just plane forgot about.

I think smart glasses work best if they take the sunglasses form and would be best with built in headphones sharing the same battery to give us less devices to have to manage battery life of.
 
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Lounds

Posts: 608   +498
I remember when Google glass was a thing me and my mate we're serious about setting aside money for one each and then Google cancelled the whole project due to security/privacy concerns with having a camera potentially always on.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 7,601   +6,114
This is one that I doubt will ever really get off the ground. Aside from the privacy concerns and costs, putting that kind of information in the line of sight is no less distracting that talking on a phone in your car. Years ago I read that the human brain is wired to operate efficiently and dependably at about 35 mph. Certainly it can operate faster but for each increase in speed you give up certain things like better eye/hand coordination, etc. and for those that must wear bi or tri-focal lenses this would be just about unmanageable.
 

ShadowDeath

Posts: 162   +114
This is one that I doubt will ever really get off the ground. Aside from the privacy concerns and costs, putting that kind of information in the line of sight is no less distracting that talking on a phone in your car. Years ago I read that the human brain is wired to operate efficiently and dependably at about 35 mph. Certainly it can operate faster but for each increase in speed you give up certain things like better eye/hand coordination, etc. and for those that must wear bi or tri-focal lenses this would be just about unmanageable.
Can you imagine getting a **** ton of notifications from some app on your phone that blocks your vision?
 
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