North is the latest startup to make a run at smart glasses.
North’s Focals glasses promise to be different because they don’t scream weird-looking, kludgy smart specs. And they avoid one of the pitfalls of the ill-fated consumer version of Google Glass: no awkward swiping at your face to interact with the glasses.
Instead, you interact with Focals using Loop – a plastic ring you wear on your finger – which is a 4-directional joystick that can also be pressed to click, according to North.
Also, there’s no camera to take stealth video – a feature that was not well received on Google Glass because ostensibly you could easily video someone without them knowing.
But probably the best feature of the Focals glasses is a transparent, holographic display that floats an arm’s length in front of you. Using this, you can see texts, view your calendar, check the weather, get directions and request an Uber.
You can also talk to Alexa, Amazon’s popular voice-based intelligent assistant. Responses appear on the Focals display or via a small speaker.
Why smart glasses?
Smart glasses have become kind of a Holy Grail of consumer tech because they promise heads-up interaction. That is, you’re not forced to endlessly look down – disconnecting with those around you – as a smartphone or laptop requires. (Not to mention the long-term health problems associated with so-called “smartphone slump.”)
North is also trying to make its Focal glasses personal. Though Focals are not cheap at $999, they are custom-built. So, you have to show up at a North showroom and do a custom fitting to complete the purchase.
And that will initially limit the reach of the glasses. Right now, there are only two showrooms, one in Brooklyn and another in Toronto.
Focals Classic square frames will begin to ship before the end of the year. Orders for glasses with round frames will ship in 2019. Prescription lenses will be available to order starting in 2019.