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Google has acquired North, the maker of Focals smart glasses

Igor Bonifacic
Contributing Writer
North Focals smartglasses.

After a weekend of rumors, Google confirmed on Tuesday that it’s the new owner of North. Before today, the Canadian startup was best known for its Focals smart glasses. The wearable integrated a holographic display inside a pair of fashion-forward frames.

Google didn’t disclose the terms of the deal. However, the company says the North team will join its office in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada. “North’s technical expertise will help as we continue to invest in our hardware efforts and ambient computing future,” Google said. What’s more, North is ending support for Focals. “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 startup said on its website.

According to The Globe and Mail, the search giant paid approximately $180 million to buy the startup. Despite a $400 price cut at the start of 2019, North had reportedly sold very few of its Focals smart glasses to consumers, and the Globe says the company was running out of money before the deal came about. In April, North co-founder Stephen Lake teased that North was working on a second-generation model.

With Focals, North thought of a variety of clever solutions to some of the pain points that had come with earlier wearables like Google Glass. For instance, each pair of Focals came with a ring you would wear on your index finger. It featured a small joystick and D-pad to allow you to control the smart glasses without touching them and drawing attention to yourself.

No one could accuse you of being a “glasshole” because Focals were discrete in a way that Google Glass was not. The problem was that they were too expensive. Before North discounted them, a pair of Focals cost $1,000. You also had to get custom fitted for them at a physical retail store. All of those were significant issues for technology that did not feel indispensable.