If you allowed pop culture to influence your beliefs about what the 21st century might look like, then you — like most of society — have probably not-so-secretly been hoping that today might vaguely resemble the marvels promised to us from the Back to the Future franchise. After all, we were all assured that we’d have hoverboards to shuttle around on, 3-D holographic advertisements to admire, and a Florida baseball team to root for.
Reality, however, has proven to be starkly different than this fantasy. Sadly, we only got one of these three incredible offerings, but the tech startup, North, is now trying to change all of that by providing us with a new, augmented reality alternative.
It’s fair to say that North, an AR smart lens manufacturer, has been met with both significant hype and equally significant challenges. While the enthusiasm about this company has been reasonably justified (a holographic real-time display in your field of vision is admittedly a pretty cool idea), they still somehow managed to repeatedly fall short on expectations. There have been numerous problems from the get-go that can be blamed for holding them back, too.
What issues, you might be asking? Well, for instance, the price of getting your hands on a sweet share of these sci-fi specs was an exorbitant $999. And if you wanted to get properly fitted in them, you had to not only shell out those beaucoup dollars, you also had to pop into one of two of their only brick-and-mortar retail shops. Even lowering the price of their AR glasses (dubbed “Focals”) down to a mere $600 per pop couldn’t save North from floundering.
Their struggles gradually became public in an assortment of actions performed by the company. First, they laid off something like 150 of their current staff. Then it was brought to light that North secured $40 million in bridge financing to help them stay afloat. Their next step was to cut out the middleman (the retail shops) and take their business entirely online. And if that wasn’t enough, they then finally pulled Focals from their inventory, with a vow to roll out an even better product (Focals 2.0) sometime in 2020.
If you were wondering where this new and improved product was, then wonder no longer: it was never made. Perhaps coronavirus squashed operations. Maybe North couldn’t drum up any more capital for their product. Either way, it was obvious that they needed another major bailout…and we now know that their much-needed helping hand has come from an unexpected place. In an announcement this week, Google has revealed that they have acquired this flailing AR tech company, and the two companies now plan to join heads to potentially (finally!) see this project through.
Google themselves are no stranger to AR, and many people may recall their attempts to get their own AR smart lenses (called “Google Glass”) up and running. Like Focals, though, the company simply couldn’t gain enough traction for Glass to become a popular product from the tech giant. While Google Glass is still available for purchase, it never became the mainstream tech revolution that Google had hoped it would be.
It’s exciting to see these two augmented reality greats come together with a unified goal in mind. After all, they already have a lot in common, with both companies serving as notable innovation masterminds, highly capable of designing and creating impressive AR technology. With that said, it’s still unclear what Google plans to do with its new purchase. Details of the acquisition are understandably hush-hush, and it’s been reported that all evidence of the first-gen of Focals will be scrubbed from the app store by the end of July 2020.
Perhaps this merger will finally allow us to see the much-anticipated Focals 2.0 come to life. Who knows? We eventually got to see the Miami Marlins not only become an actual baseball team, but also win the World Series (not once, but twice!). So is it that much more of a leap to also expect to see affordable holographic displays in our visual field? It’s an intriguing premise, and one that’s exciting to consider. Heck, we’re right there on the cusp of having real-deal hoverboards, too, so maybe this new version of augmented reality can finally become a true reality, as well.