Google acquires smart glasses startup North

Facebook is working with Ray-Ban to produce smart glasses by 2025.

In the coming years, there will be a deluge of smart glasses from several manufacturers. Everyone from startups to giants like Apple seems to have some sort of investment in the next-gen wearable tech. Now, Google is getting back in on the action.

It just acquired North, a Canadian startup that launched a decent-looking pair of smart glasses last year. Due to the acquisition, its second generation of glasses, previously slated to arrive sometime this year, won’t be released at all.

Eyeing the Future

North launched its Focals 1.0 in January. The smart glasses use tiny lasers hidden in the arm to project images in front of the wearer’s eye. When paired to a smartphone, they can show directions, display notifications, and even hail an Uber. The smart glasses were short-lived, however. North announced in December that it discontinued the production of Focals 1.0 to develop a second-generation version.

As a result of its deal with Google, North will no longer be releasing Focals 2.0. Moreover, it plans to wind down the functionality of Focals 1.0 by the end of July. It will issue refunds to consumers who purchased a pair—which originally retailed for up to $1,000.

It’s deflating news for early adopters who are fans of the technology. However, it will hopefully be the first step towards a brighter future for smart glasses.

Google, of course, has continued to work on its own Google Glass project. It has pivoted to try and sell the smart headset to businesses rather than consumers following a massive flop when Glass originally launched several years ago.

As of now, it remains unclear exactly how North will be integrated into the company. Google says that the startup’s “technical expertise will help as we continue to invest in our hardware efforts and an ambient computing future.”

Should Google want to resume work on a consumer-focused smart glasses product, North’s intellectual property and expertise in the area would certainly be welcome.

Unknown Market

Despite the fact that companies around the world are investing massive amounts of time and effort into smart glasses, no one really knows what the market for them will look like.

Previous attempts to sell smart glasses to consumers have flopped. However, that is likely because current technologies weren’t ready to support them when they were released. While today’s attempts at making smart glasses are still mostly speculation, it’s a little easier to see them being integrated into everyday life.

More recent developments and breakthroughs in the areas of augmented reality (AR) could help make smart glasses feasible. Ultimately, though, convincing consumers to adopt them will likely be more about form factor than functionality.

People hesitate to spend big money on a clunky-looking device—regardless of its features. Just ask Google Glass. A sleek pair of smart glasses might be able to find success at the right price point even if it isn’t packed with cutting-edge features.

In the days ahead, it will be interesting to see how Google uses its latest acquisition. North could be a key piece of the puzzle if the tech giant intends to pursue consumer smart glasses once again.


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