Focals by North

Alexa Smartglasses Focals are Here

Manufactured by North (previously Thalmic Labs), Focals are $999 smartglasses featuring Alexa and Uber app integration. Focals are advertised as ‘everyday’ smartglasses and are available in Classic and Round styles, come in three colors, and both prescription and non-prescription lenses. Able to connect via Bluetooth to both iPhone and Android phones, the smartglasses use an invisible holographic display that shows subtle overlays like incoming text messages, and turn-by-turn directions with voice and visual interaction using a special version of Alexa.

Focals by North in Round Tortoiseshell

Alexa Integration

Amazon was a leading investor in North’s Series B funding, and is one of two partner apps for the Focals launch, the other being Uber. About Alexa, North CEO Stephan Lake told Wearable:

We worked on an amazing version of Alexa with [Amazon] that’s tailor made for the glasses…We used some of the work developed for display devices in the home but we’ve been working with Amazon to go further though and actually create more skills that have great visual responses.

The glasses have a built-in microphone and speaker to enable Alexa integration. The holographic display also makes Focals a multimodal device. Users will be able to hear and see the weather or time, be read text messages, order an Uber, ask for directions from MapBox or information on a topic.

Specs – Have We Seen This Before?

Smartglasses have yet to gain consumer traction, although others have previously tried to make them happen. Intel’s Vaunt smartglasses shut down production and development due to lack of interest. And Google Glass was dead upon arrival when they released in 2014.

North seems to have learned a few lessons from its predecessors’ failures. The main learning was to make the smartglasses look as normal and stylish as regular models. Another feature North implemented to make Focals more socially acceptable is a required accessory, the Loop. The Loop is a smart ring with a joystick-like button that allows users to interact with the glasses’ interface – no head touching required. The joystick allows users to swipe through notifications pushing either left or right, and pressing down to make a selection. It is also how users are able to trigger Alexa.

In addition, Focals are slightly cheaper than other previous smartglasses that have to come market retailing for under $1,000. The $999 price includes lenses, prescription, anti-glare coatings, and the fitting. Each pair needs to be customized in order to fit a customer, the stores will create a 3D model of your face in order to 3D print your frames. This is necessary due to the display – a tiny projector sits in the right arm of the frames, and projects onto a photopolymer material on the right lens, producing a 15-degree viewing area that’s about 300 x 300 pixels. If the fit is off even a little bit, users will not be able to see the display.

Can They Succeed at This Price Point?

It will be interesting to see if Focals fare better than other smartglasses. It’s been a few years since Google Glass faded, though they seem to be making a small comeback for enterprise applications. Snapchat found moderate success with Spectacles. Consumers may now be primed to give the category another try. North also found a solution to the “nerd” factor of smartglasses by making them stylish and discreetly smart. However, it remains to be seen if consumers will see a need to pay almost $1000 (5x more than Snapchat Spectacles 2 and 7x more than LET Glasses) to wear a smart phone and smart speaker on their face.

LET Glasses by the way had a successful Indigogo campaign in January and promised a May shipment date. As of last month, they were still in the manufacturing process, had already discontinued one model due to production issues and didn’t commit to a new ship date. It is worthwhile to keep in mind that building a great smartglasses prototype is a different exercise than producing consumer devices at scale.

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