Startup North is Taking Another Crack at the Smart Glass
It's perhaps most appropriate to start with the most obvious. Tech companies have been trying to make smart glasses for the longest time. Google Glass, for example, was briefly on the market in 2013 until it ultimately failed. This year, Amazon will try to accomplish what Google couldn't by funding North and its smart glass project called Focals. It's an interesting venture that could potentially resuscitate an entire market segment.
What Are Focals by North?
It's sort of an anti-Google Glass in the sense that it doesn't try to look like a thing from the future. Instead, it looks like your run-of-the-mill glasses. It won't even look like a smart device if you don't look closely enough.
It's a highly personalized device. Purchasing one, at least this year, can only be done in stores in either their Brooklyn or Toronto showrooms. That's because there's a bunch of fittings that need to be made before a pair is sold. This is an important step because a small degree of deviation from a perfect fit would have a huge effect in how you see notifications and other images.
Prescription, of course, will also be adjusted according to the wearer's needs. But, it will be limited from +2 to -4. For people with 20/20 vision, non-prescription lenses can also be used.
You'll also be asked to choose from a variety of styles and colors for the arms and frames. As of right now, the choices are tortoise, black, and fade grey for either a round or classic styles. They actually look really stylish instead of the earlier products that looked like they came from a futuristic movie set. After the fitting, you'd still have to return to the showroom to get the finished product.
It comes in a relatively large case that serves as a battery pack. So, it'll have a sort of similar function as Apple Airpod's carrying case. Although it's going to be a lot less sleek to carry around because the glasses cannot be folded fully. The slight bulge caused by the projector prevents it. But, since it's a wearable this shouldn't be much of a problem.
How it Works?
The way it works is that a small laser projector beams images to the right lens. The lens is coated with photopolymer material which then sends the image directly to your eyeballs. It may sound like a hazard but the team has made sure that they use only extremely low-powered lasers to eliminate any danger of getting blinded.
It has a similar function to the Google Glass and will mainly project notifications. But, it has some added functionality thanks to an intuitive control system. It'll be able to send quick text messages and even call an Uber. It should also have some sort of Alexa integration with the project being funded by Amazon and all.
Controlling it would be different, though. It'll come with an inconspicuous ring with a control stick built-in called the loop. The five-axis control stick is quite intuitive as it can accomplish the tasks it was designed for effectively. How other manufacturers are going to use this is an exciting prospect to think about. You can also use your voice and give commands through a built-in mic like other Alexa enabled devices.
And to hear Alexa's response to commands or queries, there's also a built-in speaker.
Is it Useful?
When the smartphone was launched, there was no way to know that it would someday be used to call a ride, order food, or find the love of your life. But, through developers' innovation, here we are, able to do all these wonderful things on a phone.
Hopefully, the Focals by North becomes successful enough to make it attractive for both developers and users alike.
Or better yet, it can make programmers want to develop apps exactly for what the Focals can provide. The Loop and voice controls have limitless potential that developers can easily exploit.
But, at the $1,000 USD price tag, this task might prove to be an uphill battle.
The only way to know if it has a market is if we allow it to have its time in sun. Unlike the Intel's Vaunt that got cancelled this year, this stylish piece of tech will be made available to the public. The showrooms look like Warby Parker stores that can really draw in the customer.
Will it Sell?
The Focals by North is an ambitious product that has the potentially start traction for the smart glass market. But, it also carries with it the possibility of flaming out like its precedents in the Google Glass and the Vaunt.
With this one, North, a relatively small startup is brave enough to jump into the market directly. Something that the Vaunt didn't even try to do. Sometimes, it's that leap of faith that gets things done.
Much like the smartphone leap that Apple took with the original iPhone, Focals is pretty much a first of its kind pioneering product. Of course, we can argue that Google Glass and Vaunt came before. But, we can't deny the fact that it's the first functional smart glass that doesn't look out of this world.
The question of whether or not it will sell therefore, is best answered after the launch. For what it's worth, the smart wearables trend looks like it's on the up and up right now and the introduction of a new device always gets traction from enthusiasts and futurists.