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North Focals: Is this smart Alexa eyewear what Google Glass wishes it could have been?

New smart glasses with holographic display and $999 price tag open for pre-orders

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Half a decade after Google Glass and its apparent commercial failure, Focals by North are here to try again.

Formerly known as Thalmic Labs, North has spent the last five years — pretty much since Glass went on sale — working on its smart glasses, called Focals.

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Similar to Google Glass, Focals project a simple interface onto the right-hand lens, with graphics that appear to float just in front of the wearer thanks to a holographic element in the lens.

Unlike Glass, Focals do not have a privacy-threatening camera, and five years of technological progress means they are far less bulky. North claims they'll last 18 hours on a charge, a huge improvement over the half-day-at-best that was possible with Google Glass.

North

Priced at $999, and available to pre-order now with a refundable $100 deposit, Focals are intended to be an unobtrusive as possible. North expects wearers to interact with the interface for five to 15 seconds at a time, no more than that. That's similar to how we use smartwatches today, and certainly far less than the hours we spend on smartphones daily.

"We're starting with text messaging, calendar, turn-by-turn directions, weather, Amazon Alexa and Uber and will be expanding from there," says Stephen Lake, chief executive of North.

Continuing the theme of simplicity, North has decided not to give the Focals any physical controls at all. Instead, wearers interact with the interface via a smart ring on their finger, called Loop. This ring features a miniature five-way joystick for flicking through the simple interface.

North

North plans to release two versions of Focals, called Classic and Round, each with three color options — Black, Tortoiseshell and Gray Fade. The glasses can be fitted with prescription and non-prescription lenses, and a charging case offers three days of additional power. The glasses connect to iOS and Android smartphones via Bluetooth.

Much like a smartwatch, these glasses are designed to be off and doing almost nothing for most of the time. Only when they require your attention — to see a direction prompt on your walk, or an incoming message - do they come to life. Lake adds: "A unique aspect of the Focals design process has been the idea of 'designed to be off' that has underscored how we think about the product."

North

The CEO continues: "Interactions are designed to get you to what's important, then back to what's in front of us, as quickly as possible. Interactions are five, 10, perhaps 15 seconds, built to fit into those little moments we have as we walk to the elevator, head out the door, wait for a coffee, etc."

A teaser video shows how the simplistic interface can serve up walking directions (or used to call an Uber.) Another shot shows the time, day and date.

Anyone who orders a pair of Focals is asked to visit one of North's two stores — in Brooklyn and Toronto — so they can measured correctly for both the glasses and the smart ring. The company says Focals Classic are "shipping in limited quantities starting in December 2018," while Focals Round will arrive "in 2019."

Check out The GearBrain, our smart home compatibility checker to see the other compatible products that work with Amazon Alexa devices.

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