By augmentedlance on 1/8/19 8:17 AM
If you're at CES2019 the new Focals by North are a must-see, Venetian Ballroom in the Amazon Services area. I had the pleasure of the full fitting experience in Brooklyn. Here is my honest review.
Let's just be clear – these are glasses that happen to be ‘smart’. Frankly, most of the frames coming from fashion houses like Chanel, Prada, etc. are bigger and bulkier. The temples are thin and the optical projections cannot be seen from by anyone but the wearer. Focals represent the baseline in sleekness, and consumers would probably trade a little more size and bulk for additional features in the future.
The projected images are acceptable for text and simple colored blocks and shapes like a navigation arrow or icon. But a bit lackluster compared to the AR that the market is accustomed to. I witnessed some flicker and fading on the edges, but I'll reserve my final judgment until I receive my custom-designed glasses built specifically for my head and IPD. And remember, the optics are designed for notifications, and actually, the small viewing window and ability to simply alter your glance to make the image appear or disappear is a huge advantage for this type of application. Cognitive awareness is premium, and Focals are true to North’s tagline, "there when you need it, and gone when you don’t"...so they are delivering on this promise for sure.
The mic performed great right out of the box when using Alexa, and this included multiple accents, etc. I did not get the chance to test noise cancellation in any real way, only using the device to date inside North’s Brooklyn store. The microphone was fine for alerts, audio feedback from Alexa, etc. Not sure I’d say these substitute for headphones, but light music would work fine.
Voice-to-text and potential for voice control are great, but if the core design element of Focals is discretion, then they nailed it with the Loop. A ring that acts as an intuitive 4 axis joystick. Simple, responsive, and absolutely unnoticeable to the outside onlooker.
The sunglasses clip-on were great – fashionable and easy. The charging case is really cool and well-designed. A little too bulky for your back pocket, but worth the sacrifice for the extra battery and protection. Not sure what other accessories will be forthcoming, but Bluetooth earbuds would be nice.
These are not yet available and not yet revealed in terms of shape, size, and configuration. The whole house of cards crashes down if the prescription solution flops… 60 percent of people require some type of corrective vision. We’ll get back to this once North releases their solution.
Let’s just skip the conversation about why there are only 2 places in the world you can get fit, if this is actually scalable, and if consumers will actually acclimate to this. The experience – really cool. For a first-person experience, watch my video of the fitting process. The software North created might become the standard for all opticians in the future. The very helpful and knowledgeable staff get your head rendered, ring sized, walk you through the fashion options, and then take you through some live demos including Alexa and navigation. Check out my experience here.
LANCE AR RECOMMENDED USES
- Consumers/general public: It’s a smartwatch for your face, and although apps are currently very limited, it's so fashion-forward that the consumer might actually buy these as glasses for looks alone with the benefits of smarts. And its so discrete, they have solved the Glass-hole problem.
- Enterprise: The ability to scale fitting and prescription issues aside, this device would really only be applicable for alerts, simple instructions/directions with some potential for 2-way verbal interactions. The ring UX has good potential to quickly flip through data or make menu selections. But I’m not bullish that North will make any efforts to move this into the enterprise space without significant pressure. Most attempts at ‘consumer’ smart glasses end up in enterprise because they could not sell to consumers outside of early-adopting techies. Focals have that same potential without addressing some of these issues.
LANCE AR PROS/CONS
- #1 most fashionable smart glasses to hit the market
- Natural ability to see the optics, slightly adjust your eyes, and it's gone
- Discretion – the look, the ring for silent non-touch interaction, etc
- Truly heads up and hands-free, cognitive awareness
- No camera, then no computer vision or special AR
- Optics: small display size, some flicker – but I'm reserving judgment until I receive my customized pair
- No third party app ecosystem – still locked-down, very limiting
- Showroom availability – no traveling system yet, therefore, limited potential for groups or enterprise users
LANCE AR FUTURE PROJECTIONS
I predict that this first offering of Focals is a tactical (and very smart) phase 1 for North. The value of the data they'll get from the fitting process will undoubtedly lead their R&D strategy for phase 2. The number of head sizes, IPDs, varying vision qualities, etc. will drive the form factor and optics going forward. The data they receive from consumers on the acceptance of their fashion choices, frame styles, accessories, everyday usage statistics etc. will drive style and application development. And the awareness raised with fashion houses, software developers, and others should open up many opportunities.
As for my guess on their phase 2 technical direction, well it's not even a guess, it’s the addition of a camera. With employee titles that include machine learning, computer vision, and camera engineer, it's obvious. And it’s the right move. The AR experiences we all are waiting for require it. My second prediction is that they open up the software ecosystem – they don’t have the time, money, or resources to go it alone, no one does frankly. But I get it for phase 1, a controlled experiment requires a controlled environment.
If it was $500, I think this product would disrupt the smartwatch industry and refocus the developer community toward this device as an either "I buy a watch" or "I by Focals". But at $1000, it’s a tough sell to the general public... Although I don’t think that is the real strategy here. If North can navigate this first product release, harness the feedback, and open up the ecosystem, they just might win this race.
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