Is the world ready for the return of the Google Glass? Or should I say Alexa Glass? Um, make that Alexa Focals, oh wait, Focals by North!
Focals by North
North (www.bynorth.com) formerly Thalmic Labs, is releasing “Focals,” an Amazon Alexa powered pair of glasses with a heads up display. It is essentially the modern version of the Google Glass. According to North, “Focals are stylish smart glasses with a transparent, full-color display that connects you to the things you care about.”
So, what is different about “Focals” that will make it succeed where the Google Glass failed?
Function Meets Form
According to North’s advertising, “Others have tried and failed to build smart glasses people love because they started with function and fought their way back to form - we did it the other way around. We painstakingly crafted an aesthetic for Focals that was bold enough to make a statement, but discreet enough for everyday wear.”
Yes, Focals by North are more stylish, and available in two styles, Classic and Round (my personal favorite). However, the hardware technology built into the arm is not what I would call stylish. It does however, appear to be less cumbersome than previous versions of smart glasses.
Also, previous versions of smart glasses required you to interact with an interface built into the arm, which meant the person wearing the glasses had to constantly lift their hand and touch the arm to interact with the information on the display.
North introduces two features to alleviate this unnatural interaction. First and foremost is the integration with Amazon Alexa. Meaning, now users can control interaction with the programs on the heads up display with their voice. Secondly, Focals includes “Loop” a ring you wear on your finger allowing you to “Effortlessly interact with Focals using … a 4-directional joystick that can also be pressed to click, allowing you to interact without lifting your hand.”
All these technology upgrades and features are wonderful, however will they be enough to succeed where the Google Glass failed?
The success or failure of “Focals” will depend on society’s reaction to privacy concerns.
Smart glasses have always run into an adoption hurdle that goes beyond technology, or form. Privacy concerns have been the real barrier to adoption. Will concerned people stand up and voice their discomfort with the technology, the way they did with Google Glass? The downfall of the Google Glass was driven more by society labeling users of the technology as “glassholes” then by any lack of style or functionality.
Today privacy concerns exist with the adoption of Google Home and Amazon Alexa inside the home. However, the concerns have not been loud enough, or strong enough, because people have control over the devices. If someone is concerned about privacy of voice assistants they don’t have to buy one. If they “do” want one, because they like the functionality, and are concerned about the device listening for a wake word, they can put it on mute until they want to interact with it. The privacy concern with voice assistants in the home are inside a users control.
However, smart glasses suffer from a privacy concerns that extended beyond the control of the non-user. Is someone with smart glasses near by listening to me without my permission, will someone with smart glasses take my picture, or video record my actions without my knowledge.
The style, the form, the function are all improved with Focals by North, however the privacy concerns still remain unaddressed and the privacy concerns will ultimately determine if smart glasses reach main stream adoption.