North Focals conversation mode silences smart glasses when you're chatting

North's Focals smart glasses are becoming more aware of what's going on around you, with a new conversation detection mode promising to minimize distractions while you're engaged in real life. The new feature is part of North's latest update for the digitally-upgraded glasses, rolling out from today.

Focals, if you've not been keeping abreast of the tech you can sling from your face lately, are North's transparent display smart glasses. Though they look like regular eyewear – albeit with fairly bulky arms, since that's where North packs in the batteries and other components – they have a color display in one lens.

That display can show notifications from your phone, navigation directions, interactions with Amazon Alexa, and more. Indeed regular software updates have progressively enhanced Focals considerably since their launch late last year. Previous upgrades have included things like real-time public transit updates, sports updates, and even language flash-cards.

That's great if you're looking to squeeze more value from your $599 smart glasses, but not if you're trying to stay engaged and connected in the real-world instead. That's something North is addressing with firmware v1.92 for Focals this week. A new "do not disturb" setting promises to actively stay aware of what you're doing, and decide more intelligently when Focals should stay quiet.

Conversation detection checks if you're listening or talking to people around you, and then automatically snoozes incoming notifications until you've finished. When the eyewear decides the conversation has ended, it shows a summary of any notifications that came in while it was going on.

It's a welcome addition to North's smart glasses. After all, wearable tech usually promises a smarter way to interact with your digital life, but typically that just means bringing the majority of the notifications from the phone in your pocket to somewhere else on your body. Ignoring a smartwatch vibrating on your wrist is one thing. Being able to concentrate on a real-life conversation when updates are being pinged into your line-of-sight is quite another.

As you might hope, privacy is a big consideration. Focals only checks for an ongoing conversation when a notification actually comes in, for instance, rather than always listening. No conversations are actually recorded, either, and there's no transfer of audio to the cloud or saved copies on North's servers.

Those people who you have designated as favorite contacts, meanwhile, will be able to bypass the new "do not disturb" setting. Focals already offers an Automatic Driving Detection setting, which will mute notifications and tweak the UI wearers see.

All in all, it's an intriguing addition to the range of tools we have to deal with digital distraction, not to mention another example of how "smarter" in wearables doesn't just mean faster processors, bigger screens, or longer battery life. Features that adapt to the user more intelligently – and know when to be quiet just as much as they know when to interrupt – are essential if smart devices are to become essential body-wear.