Why it matters: Focals by North could've revolutionized the wearable market. However, a steep price and need for custom fit tempered an otherwise great product. The company is looking to evolve their smart glasses into something better and more sustainable but they'll need to do it before Apple gets their own rumored AR glasses to market.
Focals were the smart glasses to change how wearables were done. Instead of the geeky looking Google Glass, Focals were designed to look like regular glasses while adding the capability to project useful information on the lens. The company behind the glasses, North, has discontinued Focals in order to focus on the next-generation version to be released next year.
"Over the last year, we delivered the first version of the future of eyewear with the launch of Focals - available across North America in our Toronto and Brooklyn Showrooms, Pop-Ups and most recently online through our Focals Showroom App. Today, we‘re pushing to set new, more ambitious goals and announcing our next project: Focals 2.0."
North made waves last year by trying to create augmented reality glasses that just look like normal glasses. The original version is able to project an image onto the wearer's retina and display information such as driving directions, weather, and text messages without forcing the eyes to refocus. The display was driven by a Bluetooth connected plastic ring that used a tiny joystick to scroll through information.
While many reviewers praised the practicality and sheer usefulness of Focals, the steep $999 price (which eventually got slashed to $599) combined with the need to travel to one of the showrooms in Toronto or New York for the glasses to be custom fitted made it a non-starter for many potential customers.
According to The Verge, North didn't have the greatest launch for Focals and was forced to lay off 150 employees to have enough money to continue developing the smart glasses. While the company hasn't released any sales figures, it still seems confident in moving forward with Focals 2.0.
"Focals 2.0 are truly the most advanced smart glasses ever made. We’ve further miniaturized the technology that goes into Focals by 40%, making the glasses lighter, sleeker, and more powerful with a new 10x improved retinal display. Focals 2.0 will also offer a wider range of prescription support. No compromises to traditional eyewear."
This news also comes on the heels of a report that Apple is planning to release an AR headset in 2022 followed by a smaller pair of AR glasses in 2023. Apple's strength in R&D and existing ecosystem of over a billion iOS devices could definitely give Apple a leg up. That said, if North is able to release a better, more convenient version of their smart glasses next year, it may be able to capture an early lead.