What does the future hold for North x Google?

by W. Andrew Powell
Focals by Norths

North announced this morning that they’ve been acquired by Google, and it’s possibly the most interesting news that I’ve heard so far this year in tech.

Last year, I got a pair of Focals by North to review, and I really loved them in a lot of ways, and the whole process of being fitted and starting to use them. There was also some amazing promise in the concept, but I did have my reservations.

The problem with the original Focals was that they were heavy, required a ring to control actions, and sometimes it was difficult to clearly see the text or images.

They were an amazing experience, and for early adopters I think they worked as well as they could given the technology at the time, but the best part of Focals version 1.0 was the promise of what future versions could do. North approached the technology in a unique way, gearing them to be a companion for your phone that gave you options and information without taking your phone out of your pocket.

Now, here we are, and it will be interesting to see what comes of Google x North. I’m even curious what Google will do with Focals, since it seems like there’s another focus.

Shortly after the announcement, I got an email from North saying they’re shutting down the whole Focals project as it exists today.

“As part of this transition, we’ve made the difficult decision to wind down Focals in order to focus our efforts on future endeavors. This means that features and services on Focals will no longer work as of July 31, 2020.”

They went on to say they will refund all orders for Focals, and provide support for existing customers until December 31, 2020.

As disappointing as that sounds, here’s where it gets more interesting.

“We founded North (then Thalmic Labs) in 2012 with an optimistic vision for the future in which technology becomes an invisible, helpful part of our everyday experience,” the company said in their announcement. “Technology seamlessly blended into your world: immediately accessible when you want it, but hidden away when you don’t.”

“Early on, our focus was on new forms of interaction with Myo, a gesture based input device that directly coupled neuro-muscular impulses into signals computers could understand. We then shifted focus to Focals, our everyday smart glasses with direct retinal projection and prescription compatibility.”

So while the company is shutting down Focals, they linked to their 2016 video showing off Myo. If I had to guess, this seems to be the big hint about what Google x North will focus on–some version of wearable smart technology that changes how we interact with computers or even phones.

My hope is that Google x North also means Focals 2.0 will be possible, even if that’s not the name they get, and it’s hard to say what timeframe Google might pursue that idea. But the company did make it clear that Focals 2.0 are not coming.

“We are winding down Focals 1.0 and we will not be shipping Focals 2.0, but we hope you will continue the journey with us as we start this next chapter,” the statement went on to say.

On the bright side, North will continue to operate out of Canada, and my hope is that this leads to incredible new technology from Google x North.

“This acquisition is a terrific fit for North and, importantly, we’re staying here in Kitchener-Waterloo. We’re proud to have grown our company in the Kitchener-Waterloo region and are thankful for the tremendous support we’ve received from the community. We are looking forward to remaining in the region with Google.”

Watch the Myo video below to get an idea what North was originally working on.

Focals by North

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