Google Glasses created a stir when it was unveiled as Project Glass in April 2012. The video it shared showed how a Glasses user could use the wearable throughout the whole day to send and receive text messages, take and share photos, navigate indoor maps, stream live video, and more. But things never happened as planned. At $1,500, Google Glasses was expensive and this was well before smartphones cracked the $1,000 barrier. Buyers had to go through an arduous fitting process and after all this, they were not allowed in some bars and theaters for fear that they were taking photos on the sly. Even worse, some were called glassholes because no one could tell when the camera was being used and who the subject of a photo was.
Is Google giving the consumer smart glasses market another shot?
According to The Globe and Mail (via 9to5Google), Google parent Alphabet has gone beyond simply kicking the tires on a deal that would see Alphabet purchase Canadian wearable manufacturer North for $180 million. We are willing to make the assumption that Alphabet's purchase is being made on Google's behalf.Eventually, Glasses died as a consumer product although it is still sold today to companies. And now that Apple is taking a whack at the consumer smart glasses market as soon as next year, Google could be looking at giving it another shot.
North produces a line of smartglasses called Focals. In December, the company stopped selling Focals and starting teasing Focals 2.0; the next-generation smart glasses would be the “most significant product introduction to date in the category" according to North. The "lighter and sleeker" Focals 2.0 are said to feature 10 times the display while the technology is miniaturized by 40%.
In April 2019, we told you that Focals could give us a look at what to expect from Apple Glass. They resemble a pair of regular glasses similar to what tipster Jon Prosser told us to expect for Apple Glasses. They show calendar appointments, feature Alexa integration, deliver turn-by-turn navigation, allow users to order an Uber, and more. Focals are controlled through the use of the "Loop," a ring that is worn on a finger and provides four-directional navigation like a joystick. At the start of last year, North cut the price of Focals from $999 and up to $599 and up. But sales of the first-generation glasses were said to be "minuscule" and one person close to the company's sales operations said that no more than 1,000 units of the glasses were sold. Retail stores in Toronto and Brooklyn, N.Y. would go days without a retail sale.
To buy Focals, users had to have a 3D model of his or her face made. The machines needed to do this were available in only two stores and later North opened pop-up locations and also came up with a way for a customer to have his or her face scanned using an iPhone.
While waiting for Focals 2.0 to hit the marketplace, the company hasn't been generating any cabbage (cash). Monthly spending has been cut in half; even so, North is running out of money which is why The Globe and Mail story sounds legit.
So if Alphabet does buy North, will Google be getting back into the consumer smart glasses business? As we pointed out, the company was not a success the first time around. However, Focals are a lot less ambitious than Google Glasses ever was and the guys in Mountain View might feel compelled to beat the release of Apple Glass with Focals 2.0. Because Focals 2.0 won't look like Google Glasses, a purchase of North could give Google a fresh start in the consumer smart glasses business.
Rumors call for Apple Glass to rely on a paired iPhone for processing and there will be no camera on the device which eliminates the fear of being labeled a glasshole. However, Apple Glass could be equipped with the LiDAR depth sensor first used on the 2020 iPad Pro models. This will help the wearable deliver the AR capabilities that are so important for a pair of consumer smart glasses to have.