Smart glasses are arguably the wearable with the most promise for discreet data consumption, and North – formerly known as Thalmic Labs – believes we’ll pay $1,000 for custom set of specs to deliver that. The company previously tried to corner the wearable market with a totally different limb, offering the motion-tracking Myo armband. Now, it’s back for your face.
Relaunched as North, the debut product is Focals. At first glance you’d be forgiven for assuming they were a regular pair of glasses; indeed, that minimal tech look is there by design. The last thing North wants is for Focals to go the way of Google Glass.
However, much like Glass, the digital interface is designed to float in front of your right eye. Rather than a chunky projection block, however, it uses a small patch on the right lens. A laser projector beams information onto a small, circular patch in your line of sight.
The result, North says, is a holographic display that seems to float roughly an arm’s length in front of you. It’s still transparent, so it won’t block out the view of the real world, but it’s enough to deliver text messages, turn-by-turn directions, weather reports, and calendar reminders. It’ll also deliver key app features, like summoning an Uber, and allow you to interact with Amazon Alexa.
Alexa is controlled by voice, obviously, but Focals’ interface in general is operated by a ring that the company has dubbed Loop. It allows you to surreptitiously swipe your way through the UI with its 4-direction joystick, as well as summon Alexa.
The result is a simple interface based on Android running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset, with just the digital essentials presented. You’re not going to read an ebook on Focals, or browse a website or through your Instagram feed. What you might do is read an SMS and reply through voice to text, or search for a location and get low-key navigation directions there so that you don’t look like such a tourist in a new city. Speakers can play back responses, too.
It all sounds quite a lot like Intel’s Vaunt, the ill-fated smart glasses project by the chip-maker that was axed back in April. As with North’s eyewear, Intel envisaged projecting bitesized snippets of information into the wearer’s line of site, rather than masses of data. However Intel’s goal was to build a business selling its low-power chips to the people actually making the glasses, and that proved too risky a bet to take.
North believes people are, in fact, willing to pay for smart glasses now, and at a premium. They’re priced at $999, including a custom fitting session at North’s Brooklyn, NY, or Toronto, Canada showrooms. Each set is custom-sized to the wearer’s face, since the display must be perfectly lined-up with their eyes.
There’ll be several different styles, though only the Classic frames will ship be the end of 2018. The rest, including Round frames, will follow in 2019, as will prescription lenses. In the box you’ll get the Focals, Loop, sun clips, and a charging case. A full charge should last around 18 hours, and the case will have enough battery inside to recharge the Focals a few times.