North’s Second Generation of Focals Smart Glasses Arriving in 2020
Wearable technology startup North revealed on Tuesday that it will debut the next iteration of its Focals smart glasses next year. The company has ended sales of the current version of Focals ahead of the updated version’s arrival.
Lighter, Smarter Glasses
The first generation of the North Focals smart glasses came out in the fall of 2018 and Voicebot reviewed them earlier this year. Designed to look like normal glasses, they include a microphone, speaker and holographic lens. The glasses act as an extension to a smartphone but have Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built-in. Voice controls and a small joystick on a ring called a Loop, make the smart glasses entirely hands-free. As noted in the review, the glasses look good but feel slightly heavy and the holographic display was not without flaws. Focals 2.0 is explicitly aimed at resolving those issues specifically, among other upgrades. According to North, the retinal display in Focals 2.0 will be ten times sharper, while the glasses will weigh 40% less.
“The first generation of Focals marked the evolution of traditional glasses to smart glasses, with a considered design representing the first true everyday smart glasses available on the market,” North CEO Stephen Lake said in a statement. “Focals 2.0 are at a completely different level, as the most advanced smart glasses ever made. They represent an enormous step forward in engineering the future. We spent the last year in the market learning how to build, sell and support smart glasses with our first generation product, that we now will combine with over five years of research working on the technology upgrades in Focals 2.0.”
North has added a lot of extra features to the Focals software since it launched last year. Slack, Spotify, and other apps are now compatible with the smart glasses, while apps that are still ironing out bugs can be tested by users before they are moved to the regular list. To handle the relatively complex sizing process, North has showrooms in Brooklyn and Toronto, as well as a traveling pop-up shop. The company also recently launched an iOS app for sizing. All of those outlets have ceased selling the smart glasses now. North said the plan is to keep those resources for getting the new version of the Focals on the market. The current style of smart glasses still seem to work, there just won’t be anyone buying any new ones.
North can likely afford the temporary halt in new purchases. The company has raised more than $200 million from investors including Fidelity Investments, Intel Capital, Spark Capital, and the Amazon Alexa Fund. The Ontario-based startup also earned a $24 million grant from the Government of Canada in late 2018. Along with its own intellectual property, North spent some of its cash acquiring new patents from Intel’s defunct Vuant smart glasses.
North has reason to anticipate interest in its upcoming smart glasses. A recent Gartner report estimated that consumers will spend 27% more on wearable technology in 2020 than this year, a total of $52 billion. Though the largest segment of that total is smartwatches, all kinds of wearables are expected to grow their market size. And the estimates for the smart glasses market don’t account for the sudden rush by different tech companies to come out with their own variety.
Apple is reputedly building smart glasses to arrive next year. It will supposedly include a holographic display that could be compared to the one in North Focals, as will the ones that Facebook and Ray-Ban, are working on. Samsung, meanwhile, has filed a patent application for smart glasses with two holographic screens and small cameras. There’s also a growing market for audio-only smart glasses that offer access to a voice assistant but no visual element. That’s the way Amazon’s new Echo Frames operate, as do the Bose Frames smart glasses. North’s decision to halt sales of the current Focals in favor of devoting energy to the new iteration makes sense as the Focals 2.0 will face a lot more competition next year than the first version did when it debuted.
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