Google Keeps Eyeing Mainstream Smart Glasses, Buys North Focals

focals 2.0

North said it will no longer ship Focals 2.0 this year.  (Image credit: North)

We’ve all made jokes about Google Glass before. The idea of wearing an obvious computer on your head just never took off, not even with the backing of a tech giant. Google Glass still lives in the enterprise space, but we haven’t heard a peep from Google in terms of a new consumer-facing pair of augmented reality (AR) glasses since. Today, Google made more than a peep on that front by buying North, the maker of Focals smart glasses.

North Focals stand out from any other pair of smart glasses in that they don’t really stand out much at all. They look like a regular pair of prescription glasses, and instead of having to touch the specs to navigate its menu and features, you do so discretely with a joystick-equipped plastic ring. 

This is a stark contrast from Google Glass, which could almost pass as a pair of regular glasses until you peep the hardware near the right lens. While you might wear Focals on a date (I wore them around the San Diego Zoo once), Google Glass is still best considered warehouse fashion.  

In a blog post today, Rock Osterloh, SVP of devices and services at Google, wrote of a Google-led future of ambient computing, “where all your devices just work together and technology fades into the background." 

“North’s technical expertise will help as we continue to invest in our hardware efforts and ambient computing future,” Osterloh said.

Sadly, it seems the acquisition news also means the end to Focals 2.0, which North in December teased as an upcoming follow-up to the original Focals but with 10 times the resolution. The AR specs were supposed to come out this year. 

“We are winding down Focals 1.0 and we will not be shipping Focals 2.0, but we hope you will continue the journey with us as we start this next chapter,” the co-founders of North wrote in a joint statement on North’s website

While North's original Focals were available for fitting online, you could only do in-person Focals purchases at North's two stores in Brooklyn and Toronto. Those locations will likely shutter soon; however, North’s Canadian headquarters will remain.

“Over the last while, it became clear that aligning with Google would significantly advance our shared vision. This acquisition is a terrific fit for North and, importantly, we’re staying here in Kitchener-Waterloo,” North’s announcement said.  

north focals

North's Focals AR smart glasses came out in February 2019.  (Image credit: Tom's hardware)

In our North Focals review, we praised the smart glasses’ groundbreaking design that will be remembered as a turning point for those championing the use of AR glasses in the general public. 

However, it was reported that the specs didn’t make as big of a financial impact. With Google now behind North, money should be less of an issue. But it's hard to ignore the fact that Google already attempted -- and failed -- to make consumer smart glasses a thing.

There have also been numerous reports of Apple getting into the AR eyewear game, which may explain why Google is willing to invest in North right now. However, we recommend that the company stay's closer to the Focals branding than Google Glass. Google is the bigger name in tech, but Google Glass already made a regrettable name for itself when it comes to realistic, fashionable, wearable tech. 

Before the official announcement, Canadian news publication The Globe and Mail reported that Google would pay $180 million for North, but neither involved vendor has confirmed a price. 

Scharon Harding

Scharon Harding has a special affinity for gaming peripherals (especially monitors), laptops and virtual reality. Previously, she covered business technology, including hardware, software, cyber security, cloud and other IT happenings, at Channelnomics, with bylines at CRN UK.