North halts sales of flagship smart glasses with launch of ‘Focals 2.0’ planned for 2020
Waterloo startup North Inc. has discontinued sales on its only product, the Focals smart glasses, and is directing its attention toward a second-generation version of the glasses, which will go on sale sometime next year.
North founder and chief executive Stephen Lake wouldn’t give any indication as to when in 2020 the updated product will be available for purchase, and at this point the company is only offering a handful of details about “Focals 2.0.”
The new glasses will be 40 per cent slimmer, and they will have “ten times the display performance” compared to the first generation, with sharper images and higher resolution.
North was originally founded as Thalmic Labs, a company that made “Myo” — a motion-sensitive armband that allowed a person to control a computer by making gestures with their arm. In 2016, Thalmic Labs raised around $158 million in venture capital funding, with Amazon.com’s Alexa Fund participating in the investment round.
In October of 2018, the company rebranded as North and began selling the Focals, which were designed to be stylish, thick-framed glasses that paired with a smartphone to display notifications and other useful information in a holographic display in front of the user’s eyes.
Because the glasses used a laser embedded in the frames to create the image, they needed to be precisely fitted to an individual user. The only way to properly fit a pair of glasses involved visiting North showrooms in either Toronto or Brooklyn, and sitting in a specially-designed booth with an array of cameras that created a 3D model of the customer’s head.
Lake told the Financial Post that the second-generation glasses will be “dramatically easier to fit and size” than the older model.
Despite the fact that the company won’t be selling any products, Lake said they plan to keep their storefronts open in preparation for the Focals 2.0 launch.
“We are not discontinuing retail. We’re actually going to open up more first-party retail next year, but the format of that retail will be changed to reflect the V2 product,” Lake said.
Lake wouldn’t offer any indication of how many of the first-generation smart glasses the company sold, but the company initially sold the glasses for US$999 before slashing the price to US$599 weeks later. In February, North reportedly laid off around 150 employees.
North’s decision to discontinue sales comes near the height of the holiday shopping season.
Lake would only say that the company is focused on a long-term goal of creating a new category of computing device, in the form of a display mounted in glasses.
“There’s zero thought into holiday volumes and timing from that perspective on our side,” he said.
“Frankly, there’s no relevance to that on our strategy whatsoever. You can look at our investor base. We have Amazon, Intel, and a number of others that are very long-term strategic investors in this category. We’ve raised over a quarter-billion dollars at this point.”