Alphabet has Reportedly Acquired Canadian AR Smartglasses Company called 'North' which gives us a Peek at their Future
Google's parent company Alphabet has reportedly acquired a Canadian Company out of Kitchner Ontario called North. A company that makes AR Smartglasses branded "Focals." They have sales outlets in Toronto and Brooklyn NY. While the glasses are smart technologically, they're also smart looking, unlike Google Glass that failed miserably partly due to its bizarre look and its possibly intrusive spy camera. North's introductory video below shows us just how natural they actually look on a user.
More specifically, Focals are a pair of custom-built smart glasses with a transparent, holographic display that only the wearer can see. This display floats an arm’s length in front of you and connects you to the people you care about, the information you need and the places you want to go in an augmented way.
Focals let you see and respond to texts, get turn-by-turn directions, check the weather, request an Uber, talk to Amazon Alexa and more — seamlessly and immediately. Obviously Alexa will be ripped out and replaced with Google Assistant.
The glanceable and minimalist interface gives users control over what’s happening in their digital world without pulling them away from what’s in front of them. Focals come in three colors (Black, Tortoise, and Grey Fade) and offer either prescription or non-prescription lenses.
Focals were originally sold for $999 USD ($1299 CAD) and then dropped to just US$599 last February (for non-prescription). They were custom-built using a unique sizing process to ensure a comfortable and attractive fit. The packaging includes Focals Classic frames, Loop, Charging Case and Sun Clips. Orders including prescription lenses are now on hold unless Alphabet decides to allow the company to continue.
The Glasses were to be sold to iPhone users as well as androiders as presented in the image below. One would expect Google didn't want Apple to have the opportunity of selling them at Apple Stores. This is a common practice of late, with Apple pulling support for the whether App Dark Sky for Android.
(Click on image to Enlarge)
Focals work with a ring-type of input device as presented in the image below. Apple invented a ring input device in 2015 which has already gained their second granted patent for in April 2020. Apple's ring is far more advanced than the one used with focals but Apple could easily add navigation to future smartglasses as well if they thought it would be of benefit.
(Click on image to Enlarge)
Focals use a brilliant, full-color holographic Project system as presented below. Apple was granted a killer interactive holographic display patent way back in 2014. Another patent revealing work on this technology was published in 2019.
(Click on image to Enlarge)
In fact, this past April Patently Apple posted another report pointing to further advancements being made regarding a holographic optical element that works with a projector that sends imagery to the glasses lens. One of the images from that patent filing is presented below.
North's focals works with prescription lenses. In a patent application report last week, we revealed Apple's possible modular smartglasses approach that a) pointed out vastly superior frame design with multiple components and well beyond a mere holographic projector, and b) Apple presented one way that prescription lenses would be able to simply slide into the side frame (FIG. 14) or snap in (as in FIG. 13) as confirmed by their patent figures below.
Last Thursday Canada's Globe and Mail publishing house broke the news that Google was buying Waterloo Canada's company called North.
The Kitchner publication 'The Record' reported on on Saturday that analyst Carmi Levy, a director at London’s Info-Tech Research Group had stated that "We know the company has been a technology success story, but less so a marketing success story. It often means you're ahead of your time."
North was Founded in 2012 as Thalmic Labs by a trio of University of Waterloo graduates.
Levy added that "If the acquisition by Alphabet is completed, it should be seen as validation of the innovation behind North’s technology, rather than the result of its failure from a business perspective. It’s a confirmation that North was very much on to something. Market conditions notwithstanding, it doesn’t take away from the achievements of the company to date."
Levy Further added that "Ideally, Alphabet will take some of North’s talent 'along for the ride,' and benefit from its patents and intellectual property."
You could check out TechCrunch's 2019 video review of the first generation of Focals by North.
Intel was working on basic AR smartglasses that could replace simple smartwatch features and notifications. North acquired those patents back in 2018. In fact, they acquired 650 patents in total. That's a lot of Intellectual Property protecting their AR smartglasses that Google is now owner of if the acquisition goes through.
It's always interesting to see what the competition is up to as it provides us with a superior image as to what could be coming to market in the future. That along with Apple's plethora of patents on future AR Glasses and HMDs that seems to we expanding monthly, we're able to get the bigger picture at the technology that will drive these new mobile devices. Knowing about North's Focals allows us to see that fitting technology into the frames of smartglasses is much closer to market than most think.
In someways we can understand why Apple is diving deeper into health features for the Apple Watch, as smartglasses will be able to provide basic apps likely as good or better than a simple smartwatch. Why look at a watch when changing your focus slightly south could provide the time and date reminder much faster.
In the end, Apple, Facebook Google and Huawei at minimum are working hard to find that right blend of features and technologies that could make smartglasses a natural choice as a mobile smart device, if not a user's first choice as a mobile device.
Google was first with 'Glass' and I'm sure that they want back into this market that they first envisioned. Today's news that they've likely acquired North shows us just how much they want back in.