This North Focals update hints at smart glasses' secret weapon

North's Focals smart glasses are getting more proactive, with a new update to the digital eyewear adding real-time transit updates for the places they believe you'll be commuting to. Launched in October 2018, the smart glasses embed a so-called holographic screen into one of the lenses, displaying information from a Bluetooth-connected smartphone.

When they launched, Focals' talents were fairly limited. The glasses could show text message previews along with turn-by-turn directions, as well as calendar reminders and weather reports. Amazon Alexa was also supported, along with a limited array of apps like Uber.

Since then, though, North has been eager with its firmware updates, and its new features. An update this week, though, arguably demonstrates how wearables like smart glasses could be most useful in everyday life. Rather than relying on being asked for directions, it enables Focals to proactively deliver transit information.

"During commuting hours, Focals will suggest the quickest transit route you can take to get where you need to be," North explains about the new feature in version 1.87 of its software. The new addition to the Now Moment – the tile which shows the most pertinent information in the Focals' display – includes route names, stop/station locations, and arrival times.

For example, Focals could pull up the next bus or tram to your office, with a live estimated time of arrival so that you know when, exactly, to leave the house. An ETA tool allows for quick sharing of when you'll arrive with a contact.

It's based on where you've saved as your Home and Work addresses in the Focals app, much in the way that Google Maps and the Google Assistant can make suggestions for departure time and route based on those same locations. However it's not hard to imagine the feature being expanded upon to more locations, such as getting to wherever your next appointment will be. That sort of unprompted assistance could make a wearable assistant far more useful.

The new update also brings with it Spotify control from Focals. Log into your account with the streaming music service and start playing from a Spotify connected device, and the Now Moment can show the current artist and song. It'll also support playback control – play/pause, rewind, skip, and volume – from the Loop remote control.

It's still relatively early days for smart glasses, and companies like North continue to explore what functionality is likely to be appealing to owners and what might prove unwelcome. After all, the specter of Google Glass and its rapid fall from tech darling to privacy problem continues to hang over the wearables industry as a parable of how things can quickly go wrong.

Earlier this year, North slashed Focals by several hundred dollars, as well as adding prescription lens options for order. The company began a series of demo tours around the US, to demonstrate not only what Focals are, but why potential smart glasses-wearers might want them.