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Google Prolongs AR Ambitions with Latest Acquisition of North

Google has stepped up its augmented reality game with the recent acquisition of a smart glass manufacturing company. The technology giant entered into an agreement for the purchase of North, a startup company from Canada that specialises in smart glasses. Financial details of the deal have not been revealed but estimates are around $180 million according to several sources.

The Focal range of smart glasses from North resembles regular glasses rather than the original Google Glass with a camera sticking out. Yet the device’s success was held back due to its high $1,000 launch price, which was soon reduced to $600.

North had taken the decision to stop Focals 1.0 production and announced news for Focals 2.0 development. The new device would tackle the issues of the first one. Recently, North made an announcement stating that the Focals 2.0 will not be shipped. The company also declared that its team will become a part of Google for prolonging its future efforts in ambient computing and hardware.

The recent developments may signify that Google is getting back into the consumer smart glasses space, following the failure of the Google Glass. Google Glass was launched in 2013 for developers and later made available as a mainstream offering. The Google Glass devices failed to have any considerable impact for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it was quite expensive at a price of $1,500. Other reasons included people not really being ready for adapting to using these devices, and the privacy issues related to its cameras.

Google had stopped making the original Google Glass in 2015, before going on to launch the Google Glass Enterprise Edition in 2017. The Enterprise Edition combined industry-specific software components with a more powerful hardware setup. Another version of the device was launched in 2019.

Google had launched an AR-based development platform named Project Tango in 2014. The platform, however, failed to draw enough developers, primarily due to its demanding 3D mapping hardware requirements. Hence, it was discontinued in 2017 and gave way to the newer ARCore platform.

The takeover of North by Google has brought about rumblings regarding a new consumer Google Glass version. However, the decision to stop Focals development makes it evident that the focus is more on the enterprise market.

Jay Kothari, the chief of Google Glass, said that the company is consistent in its efforts of selling smart glasses for enterprise clients rather than for consumers, in an account to Gizmodo. However, during the Made by Google conference in 2019, the technology giant had conveyed interest in growing its ambient computing horizons. In such a market sphere, devices including wearables, phones, smart devices and IoT devices take the back seat.

The much-anticipated takeover of Fitbit by Google could raise its reach into the marketplace which encompasses Android Auto, Chromecast and home speakers. Consumer smart glasses could also be a part of this expansion. Hence, the recent North takeover makes sense for Google as it can also work on how to launch Glass again for mainstream consumers.

Myo, an armband with gesture-control, AR and VR functionality was also being developed by North.

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