Wearable technology startup North has now opened up pre-orders for its custom-fit $999 Focals smart glasses, set to be sold through North Showrooms in either Brooklyn or Toronto. The glasses feature Bluetooth smartphone connectivity and an on-lens display to let users access navigation, a summary of their day via calendar, text messages, search functionality, and Uber integration. They also ship with a silicone ring that has built-in joystick-style controls and a clicker for accessing the associated menus, in addition to a cleaning cloth, protective charging case, and charging accessories. On the other hand, wearers can also interact via Amazon's Alexa, built right into the underlying system. Setting up an order requires a $100 downpayment and there are a total of two styles available but buyers will need to travel to one of the showrooms to be fitted for a pair of the smart glasses. Meanwhile, the more angular "classic" style will start shipping in December while the "round" variation will become available sometime in 2019 and prescription lenses are set to become available for either style with a valid prescription.
Background: Smartglasses are not new to the wearables market and North's Focals aren't necessarily anything new in terms of pricing either. While the devices have now effectively been relegated to the enterprise spaceFwe, Google's Glass platform has been around for several years already and hit the market with a starting price of $1,500. More recently, Snap Inc.'s second-generation Spectacles landed at a starting price of $199. The huge difference in pricing can be directly correlated to the features those brought to the table. Each company took vastly different approaches to the eye-worn wearables category but each also centered around the inclusion of a camera. However, Google's smart glasses also had a display and an array of features much closer to what North is delivering with Focals. Both generations of Spectacles eliminated the display altogether and focused on just letting users take images to be sent to their smartphone. The newest variation of Snap's offering also allowed for prescription lenses at more than double the entry cost.
North is more focused on providing a heads-up display for users and that brings the price up, as does the included remote control ring and designer styling that look nothing like the usual smart glasses. There's no camera in the build either, helping them to look much closer to ordinary designer glasses and alleviating any possible privacy concerns such as was seen with Google Glass. North was initially backed by one of Google's chief rivals in the smart products sphere, with Amazon providing some of the startups funding. Aside from getting its name associated with the new wearables, that deal almost certainly helped place Alexa as the go-to AI assistant in the firmware.
Impact: Despite the high degree of functionality and features present in North's Focals, setting aside the high-design approach, there's no guarantee the smart glasses will ultimately be a success. While Snap Inc. has done reasonably well in that segment of the connected technology market, the more similar Google Glass platform essentially bottomed out of the consumer sphere before it really got off the ground. What's more, the required visit to North's showrooms and the gadget's high cost is going to severely limit the availability of the device. Bearing that in mind, the company does have more showrooms planned in the future and there's even a signup for visitors to its site to be notified if one appears in their area.