This story was originally published 2020/06/29
9:39am PDTon Jun 29, 2020 and last updated 2020/06/30
3:24pm PDTon Jun 30, 2020.
Google is acquiring smart glasses manufacturer North Inc., reportedly to the tune of $180 million, shoring up its own hardware, wearable, and “ambient computing” efforts with the acquisition. Google saw limited success with its own “Google Glass” smart glasses, though the project lives on. The new purchase could also complement Google’s acquisition of Fitbit.
In case you’re unfamiliar, North is a Canadian-based company that makes Smart Glasses which project an image on an optionally prescription lens. The company previously opened a showroom in Brooklyn, NY back in late 2018. Obviously, these glasses don’t have a touchscreen: North’s first-gen smart glasses used a built-in mic and a ring (as in: touch controls that you wear on a finger) for commands. They could do stuff like show you notifications and messages as they come in, or help with navigation. For more details, you can see MrMobile’s video review of the first-generation product here.
Virtual demonstration of North’s first-generation “Focals.”
Details of the acquisition originally leaked last weak courtesy of The Globe and Mail. Though the company hasn’t confirmed all the details (like the final price tag), Google further confirmed the acquisition today in a blog post announcement by Senior VP of Devices & Services Rick Osterloh, explaining that North will join Google’s Kitchener-Waterloo team in Canada. North also confirmed the acquisition in its own blog post, explaining that it would be winding down its existing products, and the previously planned future version will not materialize.
North previously picked up Intel’s smart glasses patents in 2018, shoring up its own portfolio. The company has also worked on a “neuro-muscular” control system called Myo, and details like that may have attracted Google’s attention more than the company’s more pedestrian smart glasses efforts.
The acquisition comes as the issues North faced as a company began to pile up; it failed to materialize an anticipated second-generation product, and last year it laid off almost 500 employees. The Globe and Mail was told that the company may not have sold “many more than 1,000 pairs” of its Focal smart glasses and that it was close to running out of money.
North reportedly began hunting for a buyer earlier this year, apparently attracting Google’s interest.
It remains to be seen just how Google plans to use the acquisition. As we mentioned, North’s portfolio is a bit wider than just smart glasses, though Google may consider bolstering its own patents and efforts in that space alone to be worth it now that Google Glass is getting some traction in enterprise use. However, North has done other work in wearables and hardware, so Google may have other applications in mind. Of course, we’re still waiting for the Fitbit acquisition to be approved, as well, so this could just be Google hedging its bets.