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Google Acquires North (blog.google)
239 points by caution 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 204 comments

I guess the competition for smart glasses is heating up - I imagine google thinks apple's glasses are coming soon and they take that seriously enough to want to be prepared to compete. It will be interesting to see how this space plays out. If it's anything like smart watches, the market is going to turn around with apple's entrance, and buying north now while they're suffering gives google the tech they need to enter the market again for smart glasses once apple makes them "cool."

I just got an invitation today to purchase Echo Frames[0], Amazon's smart glasses. I'm a little on the fence but early reviews seem pretty promising.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Staging-Product-Not-Retail-Sale/dp/B0...

Aren't those more like smart earbuds in a glasses form factor? As far as I can tell there's no display component to the device at all, just speakers and a microphone.

And aren’t those “smart earbuds” just Bluetooth headsets?

Alexa requires specialized hardware for the voice recognition.

How is what it requires different from the microphone in a typical headset?

That's a fair point. I guess you could argue these aren't smart glasses at all.

I'm curious: what's the use case you're interested in these for? And what makes these more appealing than, say, earbuds that offer the same functionality?

I'm wondering too...it's just earbuds in a different form factor right? I guess it's one less device to carry but would be concerned about the weight and battery life.

The appeal of Hololens and rumored Apple Glass is that they offer augmented reality capacity. Aka layering useful information onto an existing field of view. Google Glass back in the day also offered that - perhaps ahead of its time given the technology constraints at the time.

The alexa and bose offerings are pretty similar from what I can tell. Functionality wise its not much more than BT headphones with mic and some limited surface controls. The benefit to both is the open ear audio. They dont impede sounds around you. This may be important to you if you need spacial awareness for things like sport and navigation.

What's interesting is that there's nothing preventing hardware companies from making open-ear audio headphones, right?

I'm starting to think beyond the "I already wear glasses anyway" use case, these may be targeted for industrial applications where (1) some form of eye protection is mandated, (2) spatial audio context is critical, and (3) having a personal device (phone, watch) is either frowned upon or not allowed.

While living in NYC, I observed that the Apple Watch's most aggressive adoption was among people whose jobs didn't allow access to phones on the regular—think restaurants, service industries, etc. The value wasn't that it was a watch, it was that it _wasn't_ a phone.

I wonder if a similar reality isn't also true of product categories like these …

I wear prescription glasses already so the appeal for me is no different from that of earbuds except that I wouldn't need a separate device. They would simply replace something I already wear.

If they are not as good as the Hololens 2, not interested. That device is off the hook good, really impressed with MS as a long time Linux user

HoloLens and Focals/Google Glass aren't really comparable products, as far as I'm aware. HoloLens is meant like, mostly to be used indoors on specific purposes/experiences with a (relatively) short battery life, Focals/Glass is like a daily-wear type of device like a watch.

You can use HL2 out doors and with an extra battery, you could get a full day. I'm seeing 3 hours of usage.

What the HL2 has is the first good interface to AR/XR with incredible touch, hand tracking, and situational awareness. All AR will end up like this. It's so much better of an experience and designed to share with friends.

They seem to be targeting very different use cases. Apple looks like it's going for the everyday consumer while microsoft sees AR as a business tool. I think the everyday consumer would be willing to trade off how good the AR is for style/battery life/weight etc. Especially if apple can get around the creep factor that turned so many people off of google glass, which might require cutting out a camera or two and reducing functionality

Yes, def, it's not so easy to sell a $3500 consumer product, but it is cheaper than a brand new full VR setup, and dare I say a far far better experience.

There is definitely a lack of good apps right now, but that will be changing. It's more the experience in HL2 that is astounding and I expect most devices to eventually adopt this

Hololens 2 is decent display but the software development is atrocious. Can't believe MSFT engineers would ship this. They seem to almost require Unity to do anything in 3D/world space.

Considering what else gets shipped is it so surprising?

I haven't gotten into the programming deep yet, I hope you are not right for my sake :]

I don't want AR glasses. I want glasses that look like regular glasses but can display stuff, similar to a smart watch.

Well, this effectively what Apple is trying to make now.

Unlike Apple, North's optics is so much simpler.

You don't want to interact with those things using your hands or frisbee a photo to a friend, bouncing it off of a wall? (Physics applied to a UI system aware of surroundings is so much fun!)

If it's anything like using a phone it's going to be a huge pain the rear to interact with others in any meaningful way. Just sharing a link is by far the easiest way to share anything with anyone. I don't want some fancy NFC, proximity sensing, bluetooth activating mumbo jumbo.

It might be cool but it's not useful.

Those sound ludicrous -- are you describing a real product in this space?

OTOH I think real subtle hand gestures could be a great input mechanism. The interface used by the now-abandoned "Soli" might be worthwhile. Voice interaction seems very tedious and embarrassing to use in public.

Of course but that's a different use case and different hardware. I believe we're talking about two completely different devices and markets here.

Currently, but I everyone who's tried it is blown away by how good it is. So yes, they are different devices, but I fully expect there to be huge demand, that most smart glasses will have hand tracking, and that the end of the smart phone is without doubt.

BTW, the HL2 was design for sharing and privacy from the get go. It is after all the basis for next gen military helmets

>I imagine google thinks apple's glasses are coming soon and they take that seriously enough to want to be prepared to compete.

Like the half-hearted, and ultimately abandoned attempts they did for ultra-portables, wearables, tablets, etc? They even seem to lose interest in Android...

I wonder why they even bother...

Because those projects keep a lot of talented workers away from competitors.

I wonder if they are going to make the glasses work with prescription glasses.

This has been the greatest mistake of past smart glasses attempts as far as I can tell. There is a segment of the population who are not only ok with wearing glasses, but used to it. But do they ever make a product that works for us? no.

I tried Google glass back when Google brought it to a local IT conference and was told that a prescription version was unnecessary because it could be adjusted. It couldn't be adjusted to work for me, and even if it could have then I would still need prescription glasses to see everything else.

I think that still a good indicator of what the smart glasses might show is to look at smart watches and how bad they are. They haven't refreshed the chip for more or less 8 years.

I guess they're waiting until they improve their lock-in stuff. Can't have something open now, Google is big, they can flex their muscle. Just like Facebook and the Oculus products :/

North was previously known as Thalmic labs, and their first product was the Myo, a gesture-based input device. More recently, they created Focals, a smart glasses product.

More on their blog here: https://www.bynorth.com/

Funny story about the Myo. It was a promising device and seemed to me like it had great niche applications (such as medical). Founders weren't interested in that I guess and moved to smart glasses. Last summer they sold the patents for Myo to a company called CTRL Labs for about $20M. In the fall Facebook snatched up CTRL Labs for $500M - $1B, and their product description was basically that of the Myo.

More info:



IIRC the reviews for the armband were unanimously bad, with the device barely working. If the device wasn't fit for gaming, it definitely would not be fit for any medical or industrial use at the time.

I had the chance to use one at a hackathon, and can confirm the device barely worked. It had huge difficulties differentiating between different input gestures, and the employee who demo'd it admitted as much.

In order to make it reliable you had to make a custom classifier. The one that shipped with their software was garbage.

>It was a promising device and seemed to me like it had great niche applications (such as medical)

Medical what? I actually had an early version of the armband and SDK, and apart from it just not working well, it aggravated my latent repetitive stress injury, just playing around with it. More importantly, though, it was a solution in search of a problem. There was no real use-case for it.

> Last summer they sold the patents for Myo to a company called CTRL Labs for about $20M.

Holly molly! They once talked with Recon Instruments about them for a few hundred thousand bucks...


I backed the Myo, and I think I was waiting to see that killer app show up for it that I felt like actually using the thing. I don't think it ever came, despite my excitement for the concept.

Will the thing still work if I hook it up? I don't even know. As a Bluetooth device, I feel like it should be possible, but I don't know if it has any cloud service dependencies.

EDIT: Answer my own question, North's website doesn't link to https://support.getmyo.com/hc/en-us anywhere obvious, but the downloads are all there, including a zip file with all the market apps ever developed for it.

I used it for presentations and liked it conceptually because you would be able to advance the slides with the flick of a wrist and without having to hold a clicker. The problem was that it would always unlock from hand gestures and the software was glitchy. Still, it had a lot of potential.

Also, North bought the technology that became Focals from Intel: https://www.theverge.com/2018/12/17/18144221/north-focals-in...

I knew some people in Thalmic, later North. Canadian consumer electronics industry is a very small space, functions almost like a single Linkedin group, especially on the engineering side.

Well, good for them, but probably not for the business.

I bet we will be seeing the same product that Myo did but will be built into a particular watch that has the 'Designed by Apple in California, Made in USA' insignia in this decade.

Sigh, all I can think is yet another promising startup vanishes into the depths of Google, never to be seen again.

Google, please stop buying companies, please learn to support your products and build a loyal customer base. You are not a startup anymore, you need to make the transformation that companies like Microsoft did, and quit moving fast and breaking things.

People don't want an agile foundation, they want a hundred year foundation.

I'm not sure "promising startup" describes North (previously Thalmic Labs) that well. Everything I've heard around the Waterloo tech scene is that it was mostly smoke and mirrors from the founders who were able to maintain their own lifestyles using grants from the Canadian government. Tales from past employees are not flattering. Being bought by Google is likely the best thing that could happen to both the founders and the employees, if Google acquires the latter.


I lived across the street from their Brooklyn store from when it opened in 2018 to when it closed last winter (in anticipation of "relaunching" for the new glasses they were planning this year).

They rented an expensive glassy corner storefront ($50k/month I heard at the time) and built it out to a very high standard, but there was never anyone inside shopping. The store employees just stood around looking at their phones all day looking super bored.

I also found it bizarre that they didn't seem to be making any effort to use the space as a marketing tool beyond it's mere presence...I anticipated when they opened that there would be VIP/media/influencer events on a regular basis, but they seemingly just opened in the mornings and closed at night. Having been involved in opening some retail stores, "if you build it they will come" was certainly never part of our strategy.

There never seemed to be any attempt to attract customers or make the store more inviting at all...they didn't even have a listing on Google Maps for months after they opened. Seeing this stagnant shop every single day I spent a lot of time thinking about what must be going on inside this outwardly "promising startup" to make such an investment only to let it languish. Seems like my suspicions weren't misplaced!

I walked by it every day and can confirm. They didn't even have an inviting sign, or anything about what they were selling. The glass was a little reflective so you could barely see some mirrors and glasses on walls/pedestals. I'll bet most people walking by thought it was a typical optical store (but with only one boring frame option!).

There was an article in the Globe and Mail a few days ago saying each store was averaging about 10 sales/week, which certainly meshes with the store always being empty.

where was it in BK?

Cobble Hill, corner of Court Street and Congress, https://www.openstreetmap.org/node/6414917575

edit -- I guess I should close it on OSM ;)

> mostly smoke and mirrors from the founders who were able to maintain their own lifestyles using grants from the Canadian government

This describes a surprisingly high number of companies I’ve worked at in Canada. These SRED credits keep afloat so many companies that should have otherwise perished and that won’t ever go anywhere.

You can even hire SRED consultants that will help you milk those credits as much as possible (for a fee of course). You can then apply for more credits to pay off these SRED consultants fees, as I understand it... While producing little to no commercial value, and coast on these for years.

I’ve noticed the same thing. Have you found any good writing on this topic and how the American approach differs from the Canadian approach? I’ve been fascinated by this dynamic after spending most of my working life in the USA then returning to Canada, and just feeling like something is “off” whenever I talk to Canadian startups, and it feels like a lot of the time it comes down to the way the flow of investment differs here (especially in the R&D space).

imho it's not just the flow of investment. It's the smallness of the community. Many of the founders in the Toronto tech scene all know each other. From private school etc. At least when I was working for one 10 years ago, it all felt very incestuous and small.

Also in the US there's a real sense of having to hunt and compete for talent, but at least then in the Toronto startup scene you were to feel blessed for not having to work for a bank or insurance company, so put up the with the bullshit and dysfunction please...

This was one of the main reasons I left for the Bay area. I had a big network in Toronto but I felt like 5 years here I would be more talk than execution

Moved back two years ago and can echo this sentiment. We raised our most recently round exclusively in the US. Will be interesting to see how COVID-19 impacts all of this given how much more remote work will be available.

Before Google acquihired my team I ended up jumping ship to a NY based company from the Toronto startup I was at. Difference in culture was night and day.

With the increase in remote work availability I'd probably hunt for work from US companies at this point rather than beg for crumbs from Canadian startups.

> You can then apply for more credits to pay off these SRED consultants fees

Even better, many SRED consultants work on a contingent basis, i.e. they just get a fraction of your SRED refund!

Supposedly SRED accountants are some of the best paid in Canada, next to transfer pricing accountants.

When I worked in a startup, just feeding the SRED consultant with info ended up eating hours and hours of time. The intent of the credit is for real foundational engineering research but the reality seems to be is that it ends up getting eaten by companies that are just applying existing tech in mostly non-novel ways, and consultants get to try to spin it otherwise.

It needs to be replaced.

Yes. Each company I worked for has spent many man hours and consulting wages on SRED. The claims were 100% BS.

SRED is a cargo cult thing mostly.

The American approach is to finance fundamental research that's just beyond what's currently possible and viable (take a look at the Apollo Program and the semiconductor industry or any modern DARPA challenge) while the Canadian one seems to be a kind of cargo culting of Silicon Valley where some non-technical civil servant looks for keywords in a form to grant money or not.

My experience with the startup scene in another country agrees with your description. When tech is funded by government incubators, it tends to become a fake imitation of the VC funded industry that we know from Silicon Valley. Which often is itself a fake imitation of actual innovation, so (fake imitation)^2.

> When tech is funded by government incubators, it tends to become a fake imitation of the VC funded industry that we know from Silicon Valley.

Seems a little strong?

https://www.iqt.org/portfolio/ (Cockroach Labs, GitLab, DataRobot, databricks, Cloudera, mongoDB (I know), probably more you've heard of)

https://www.energy.gov/lpo/portfolio/portfolio-projects (Tesla)

https://www.sbir.gov/news/success-stories (Qualcomm, iRobot, 23andMe, Orbital ATK, countless others)



https://sbir.<any agency here>.gov/

https://www.darpa.mil/Timeline/index.html (the internet, voice recognition, virtual reality, GPS, onion routing, the computer mouse, touchscreens, etc.)

Also, the many startups that were spun out of public universities and government-funded research.

Sure there have been hits, but there have been a lot of failures too.

The problem with "government VC" is not the low hit rate--private VC has a low hit rate too.

The problem is also not that government funds get gamed--private VC gets gamed too. See WeWork for an absolutely enormous example.

The problem is really with the different cultural expectations for government vs private capital.

If a private VC firm loses 95% of their investments to failure and fraud, but has huge hits with the remaining 5%, well, that's just how VC works. The only thing that really matters is their net. If they end up with a big return, they are geniuses.

But if the government loses 95% of their investments, that's a ton of wasted taxpayer money. That's a lot of fodder for press, politicians, and activists to make hay out of. And if the remaining 5% are hits, well, the government does not exist to turn a profit. So the credit does not work out the same, even if the hit rate is similar.

I agree there is an issue with credit and public anger over "wasted" money, but clearly innovation is still happening, that was my point. The occasional Solyndra media frenzy hasn't stopped the government from investing in startups.

And one point in favor of government VC: it often isn't primarily profit-driven. Look for example at the energy.gov portfolio. While they obviously want their money back, they aren't trying to pick unicorns; they're trying to improving Americans' lives by improving the environment and the economy.

> LPO can provide first-of-a-kind projects and other high-impact energy-related ventures with access to debt capital that private lenders cannot or will not provide.

This is true of a lot of government investment. It's a good thing, on balance, that the people choosing government investments are not paid based on how much profit they generate or how many users they amass.

"able to maintain their own lifestyles using grants from the Canadian government" - that's absolutely false. North/Thalmic was flush with cash for a long time, and though their Myo didn't sell "well" - it still brought in millions.

Not denying the founders had lavish lifestyles, but they were running a company that raised 15M series A, and 120M series B - so that's honestly "expected". The grant I assume you're referencing was a 34M loan, which was to be paid out over time, and was recalled once North announced layoffs last year.

I won't defend their business decisions or argue they were a "promising startup" - I think they deserve the criticism. But I'd rather not throwout some false stories or accusations.

It's "expected" that founders extract millions from a failing company while employees working for years at below market salaries get nothing? I don't disagree but it's just sad.

The startup lottery just doesn't make sense for employees, even early ones. Founder is the only position worth holding. Early employees need to start demanding more from their founders.

My personal experience strongly says so as well. Been a very employee at two different companies - at least one made an “exit” - only the founder made any money at all. I took a deep pay cut for two years.

The startups my dev colleagues worked in Toronto, the ones that got acquired none got any equity. I think it’s common in Toronto for employees at startups to not get equity. Ive also read canadian founders often sell below their companies worth

That's not correct, it sounds like they got rolled.

I'll put it differently, they raised almost as much as what Google was willing to pay for the Intel Vaunt patents.

They got to milk government grants for a few years and managed to sell the company (really the patents) at a premium before it went bankrupt.

Had they been able to sell more units and make a viable product they would probably have been able to raise more.

Is it just common knowledge the founders have lavish lifestyles or was there talk in articles about the company/product?

I know them.

Maybe lavish is a bit of hyperbole. And after their 15M series A, I can assume they had competitive salaries given their life decisions (modest homes and cars).

The public announcement really make it sound like an acquihire, but in practice it sounds like an acquihire without the hire. Really what Google is after are the patents that North bought from Intel[0].

From what I've been told the current employees won't even be offered to interview at Google, much less hired. They might keep some of the folks around until the support for their existing products end, but if they do it will be from their offshoring development center in Canada. Only the patents and the tech is really going to Mountain View. That paints a pretty dark picture of the business; it seems they didn't improve a lot on the tech that they got from Intel. Google is paying a premium to make sure the patents don't end up at Apple.

No words on the founders either, that typically means they won't be part of the AR team at Google. Else it would have been announced.

[0] https://techcrunch.com/2018/04/19/intel-abandons-vaunt-smart...

> mostly smoke and mirrors

In fairness isn't that how this tech works

The smoke bit is only for development, when accidentally plugging things in the wrong way around. ;)

North was not doing so hot - they've been looking for an acquirer for a while now and were facing running out of money. So, not exactly a promising startup at the current moment unfortunately. Based on the announcement that second gen focals are cancelled as a part of this acquisition, it doesn't even seem like they're pretending it's to continue the product line etc - it seems pretty clearly for the tech/patents/etc


They barely produced 1'000 units. It would be pretty hard to support these.

> all I can think is yet another promising startup vanishes into the depths of Google, never to be seen again.

Like what? Android, YouTube, DoubleClick, ReCAPTCHA, Waze, VirusTotal, Nest, DeepMind?

Aside from search every major Google product is built on an acquisition. Maps was Keyhole and Where2. AdWords was Applied Semantics. Google Docs is Writely, and Tonic. Google Voice is GrandCentral. Google Analytics is Urchin. Google Shopping is BeatThatQuote. Google Flight is ATA. etc. etc. etc.

Whatever startup you're bitter about probably wasn't going to make it outside Google anyway and it was an aquihire, or Google gave them the runway to prove it out and it didn't work.

Disclaimer - I’m a Googler.

As a counterpoint, Cloud has acquired several companies that haven’t disappeared; rather, are fairly foundational in the portfolio:

- Cask (now Cloud Data Fusion as a product, CDAP as an OSS project)

- Looker

- Stackdriver

Stackdriver did not disappear, but having used it daily for the past 4 years and witnessed its painfully slow and buggy migration into the GCP admin, I can't say it's a product that has visibly gotten much love. We kept using it for some things out of inertia, but I can't say it ever impressed me.

How so? I've only ever used it on GC, not pre-acquisition.

Prior to the acquisition Stackdriver was never best of breed among its peer group but it was acceptable. Post-acquisition the feature set appears as an end user to have more or less frozen and their UIs feel haphazard: dashboarding is a mess, the trace UI is very complex without really giving me greater query power over alternatives and the options for converting one kind of data stream into another (logs to metrics, traces to logs to metrics etc) just aren't there. Google tightly integrates Stackdriver into its other products -- I assume that's where most of the labor for the Stackdriver team has gone -- but it feels cheap and like they've had to intentionally limit options to force buy-in. For what it is, Stackdriver is surprisingly expensive and their SDKs are quite complicated for what they end up accomplishing. Why should the end-user need to internalize Stackdriver Metrics' API to be able to produce metrics about their application? (I am sympathetic to the notion that this SDK is low-level and meant to be consumed by higher-level APIs like OpenTelemetry et al).

Nowadays the Stackdriver suite just feels left behind. There's plenty of other options in this space that have a nice internal integration and are reasonably inexpensive to purchase, or run yourself. If Stackdriver weren't so tightly integrated with Google's other cloud products I have to imagine it would get even less use than it does now.

Most of the things that bothered me were fairly minor, but taken together they just didn't give me the impression that there was a lot of effort going into the product. Lots of janky UI (filtering/browsing logs being particularly cumbersome), and a bunch of things that seem promising at first but are very much "lite" versions of more powerful products like Pingdom/Sentry/DataDog. Also I always felt like the monitoring metrics were not as well integrated into the GCP system as they should have been, given that they're under the same roof...we spun up a Prometheus cluster to do it by hand instead.

Also, until recently the admin lived outside of the main GCP admin and logging into it required some kind of redirect-bouncing oauth handshake that was consistently buggy for me. Something to do with browser defaults/3rd party cookies along the chain of redirects that would cause an infinite loop. I managed to work around it on my work computer, but it was broken for at least a year...not awesome for a tool you'll be logging into in emergencies, often from other devices.

Using Stackdriver as an example here shows how out of touch people at Google are with their customers. Stackdriver has been terrible for years and has visibly become worse over time rather than better.


Isn't Looker a talent acquisition for Data Studio?

No, they are quite separate.

This was a talent acquisition from the looks of it.

North had failed and this was an exit that was better than bankrupcy.

There's no talent to acquire. Google is in for the patents.

Employment is explicitly not guaranteed at Google, and if so it'll be from their satellite office. And no words on the founders coming onboard at Google which is a sign that they really aren't interested by the company itself.

North shipped about 1'000 units in its lifetime, barely different than the Intel Vaunt, and their V2 was still exclusively CGI rendering on their website with no launch data in sight.

Yeah, I remember when they acquired that impressive autocorrect startup (they had something about context awareness and closest letter misspells)... Android's gboard autocorrect still sucks :/

Swype. I really miss my swype keyboard. I kept it installed for the longest time after it got acquihired, until they shut down one of the remote servers or something, and then it would crash. Why could they not move that code over to Gboard? It was so good.

I'm still using swipe keyboards out of pure muscle memory but they suck compared to how Swype used to be. I swear I'd be better off learning to type conventionally now but it's been too long.

Especially when it comes to dual-language support... Swype was excellent at determining which language you meant to use.

Given that this is the first mention of North I've heard in a long time it was probably necessary for them to be acquired.

"Promising" could not be a more incorrect choice of words. It almost sounds like Google did them a favor.

This looks like a distressed fire sale rather than a good exit, considering the product failed.

> Google, please stop buying companies, please learn to support your products and build a loyal customer base. You are not a startup anymore, you need to make the transformation that companies like Microsoft did, and quit moving fast and breaking things.

It's actually not Google's fault. It's the founders of these startups who can't resist their offer nor can they do anything to control the company once they have taken lots of venture capital and are driven for an exit.

Snap resisted acquisition from Facebook and Google. Dropbox resisted Apple buying them, so the fault isn't with the acquirers. It's all the founders fault for accepting it.

Are Snap and Dropbox really examples of what companies should do??

For resisting to selling your company because of another competitor wanting to buy you out? Yes, that is the example I'm talking about, not what they actually do which you seem to have insinuated. You would have asked the exact same question 24 years ago when Apple was months away from bankruptcy at the time even when it was in legal battle with Microsoft and Intel.

It's also not limited to those companies I mentioned, but 15 years ago, Microsoft, Google, Viacom, Myspace, Yahoo, AOL all wanted to buy Facebook pre-IPO and FB resisted all attempts and they have now become highly profitable themselves as such that they have owned the social media market. Even Netflix was approached an offer of $50 million by Blockbuster and resisted a buyout.

Given the hindsight of the growth of those companies, including Apple and Facebook, had you'd been the CEO of either of them, you'd think that selling wouldn't have been a good idea.

Right, but my point was that both Snap and Dropbox would’ve been better off being bought out, imo.

Netflix and Facebook, sure, but you didn’t quite use a convincing example to support the argument.

Not that I disagree with the spirit of what was said...

This trend will continue forever because, the way modern corporate capitalism is set up, publicly traded companies have a VASTLY lower cost of capital than private companies. Thus, private companies who are profitable at a much higher cost of capital can be bought almost risk free by public companies and run poorly and still be worth it because the public companies get money so cheaply.

I agree with your sentiment but I also feel that a hundred year foundation starts with nimbleness and agility in mind.

If corporate personhood is an accepted philosophy (corporations, businesses, etc. gain many legal abilities as real people in our society)...

Is an acquisition of a startup akin to slavery (buying another person to do work for you), adoption (raising an orphaned kid), cannibalism (consuming the entity to be apart of yourself to feed some entity life-force need), or something else?

Cool, who here has tried Focals by North? I was thinking of getting them for everyday walking around and reading. My problem is I still don't understand what the interface is like. Can it project a screen to it or not? I'm perfectly happy to see a translucent IDE/browser window in my field of view.

Getting them now is probably not a good idea, because:

> The first-gen North Focals glasses won't work after July 31, 2020, but North is issuing refunds to people who bought the smartglasses


When will people learn to not buy hardware that needs cloud support to function

At least they are giving out refunds, unlike other companies that have shutdown, but still.

Things like this is why I am a firm member of the selfhosted club

The 6th time it happens to them, as long as self hosting is easier

They had something on their website about a gen 2 coming out this year. Maybe that's not the case anymore?

From the link I posted:

> We will not be shipping Focals 2.0, but we hope you will continue the journey with us as we start this next chapter.

Cool, thanks, I hadn't been there in a while

I tried them at a pop-up the company had in SF; it was an awful experience. The employees of the pop up didn't know how to use the product, when they brought out a pair that fit my (very normal) face, I could barely see the screen on it, the interface was weird (there is a ring that you wear) and it was very buggy with ios (heard it was better with android). They said I would need to buy a pair for it to fit me and me to be able to see the screen. I was really ready for smart glasses but I can't imagine that anyone would be ready to fork over $1k for something that you can't really try out.

"I can't imagine that anyone would be ready to fork over $1k for something that you can't really try out"

That's pretty much what the normal experience is for buying prescription glasses. You try on the frame to see if it is comfortable, but you can't try out the prescription in the frame until a week after you have ordered them.

I tried them at a promo event. They had to be sized for your head/eyes, so the demo glasses had to be held in a particular way to see the screen.

They were alright. The frames were reminiscent of big hipster frames, which I don't like, but they weren't outrageous. The visible area was small and neat, but I couldn't see any use for it. Probably the size of an apple watch, just floating in the corner of your right eye. The demo was walking directions and talking to alexa. They didn't sell because they weren't very useful and were very expensive.

Maybe Google's current strategy is the correct one - keep developing the tech for well-scoped, very niche applications until some day the tech might be good enough for general purpose applications. I think that day is still far away.

The screen was meh, but I thought the real innovation was that it was controlled by a ring worn on the pointer finger that was manipulated with the thumb. Aesthetically, it looked fairly normal, but it had a joystick on it to control the screen [1]. With iterations it could have been something that blended in as jewelry, yet was useful for interfacing. The real innovation was that you didn't have to raise your hand to your temple to manipulate it or use voice commands.

I think a big issue with wearable computers will be input devices. I have trained with the 1-handed chorded keyboards, such as the twiddler, and am up to 30 wpm, but its not easy and I don't think people will be willing to make that kind of adjustment. Even so, you still have to then constantly carry the input device around and have it in your hand. A "hands free" input device like the ring, or an improved Myo style band, will still be needed for any wearable that is used in a non-private setting, where voice commands are not ideal (unless its a throat mic).

[1] Pic of ring controller via gizmodo https://o.aolcdn.com/images/dimse/5845cadfecd996e0372f/94746...

I have a pair that I hadn't picked up for a year before two weeks ago when I charged, updated, and tried them out again to see if anything had changed.

The interface is roughly 6 lines of white on transparent text/menus/icons, with some "apps" occasionally being more graphical and having larger graphics/arrows. The display is basically a bunch of low power lasers being projected onto a weird thing embedded in the glass of the right lens and getting reflected into your eye. If alignment was wrong it couldn't do anything. It felt more like those vector CRT displays like from an old arcade game, where instead of pixels of varying intensity in a grid there is an electron beam just drawing lines and simple shapes.

There was definitely no ability to project a screen. It was not like google glass at all.

Platform-wise, it was more like an imaginary gen-0.5 smartwatch that was locked into a handful of baked in apps and notifications. It had to be tethered to your phone to work. It could only integrate with select apps and services: Spotify for music, Alexa for a voice assistant, gcal for calendar. I'm probably missing some.

It had some morning glance sort of thing that showed you your commute and the weather and maybe some news?

It had it's own walking navigation system that worked... okay. Granted I tried that out pretty shortly after that feature launched, and only used in Dublin when I was on a trip where I would actually be walking a fair bit. It never inspired confidence that it would notify me properly of a turn, and I tend to not really need directions shown to me all the time anyways, so I stopped bothering after using it twice.

Notifications was about the only thing I got out of it when I was using it, and it was not the best experience. The time between knowing I got a notification and it showing me was long enough that I never got over the muscle memory of either pulling out my phone or looking at my pebble (if I was wearing it) when I felt the vibrarion from either.

That brings me to the hardest part for me, the lack of confidence in the projection. When I pressed on the ring controller to activate it, or heard a sound indicating something should be on screen, I couldn't be sure that it wasn't just being slow or if it was somehow misaligned. It got misaligned often, and when it's not in just the right alignment with your eye the display is not visible. I eventually got some of those silicone things you put on stems to hold glasses on your face properly and even then they could still get out of alignment.

EDIT: totally forgot, a cool part was how you contorlled it, with a ring that had a little 5way joystick on it. This would have been cool if it was more responsive, but it suffered from the general interface sluggishness that did not inspire confidence.

Thalmic Labs/North helped to normalize the act of exaggerating the capabilities of your tech, lying to investors, raising millions of dollars and pivoting to something completely unrelated. We have to stop celebrating tech companies that are able to raise millions of dollars and still fail to deliver.

That's because they were in the business of selling shares, and now they sold them all.

This story is as old as America itself. The bank that is now JP Morgan Chase, the sixth largest bank in the world, was started by Aaron Burr's fundraise for a ripoff water supply system in Manhattan. He collected $2mm, used $100,00 on the stated purpose and the rest to start a bank.

These are our role models, where the point is to get money by any means and try to make a profit on that before needing to forfeit the money or your freedom.

> Among its founders are Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr

Talk about co-founder infighting!

This story is as old as America itself

I think you means "This story is as old as Canada, itself." North was Canadian.

Also, the story is older than America. It goes way back to medieval Europe, at least. Possibly farther back than that in the Middle East, but that's not an area of history I know much about.

I hope to inspire!

Why should we stop celebrating them? Who are the losers here and why should I feel sorry for them?

We all are the losers. That money is used in one of the least productive ways possible. Imagine all the other startups that had genuine productivity increasing, humanity enriching potential that was deprived of this fund due to investor incompetence and rewarding short-termist exits.

I believe the losers are the employees whose equity is likely worth $0.

I think the biggest problem with smart glasses, (AR tech) is the battery/power system. A family member worked at a defunct AR eyeglass maker and mentioned that point. Magic leap is in that space also and their solution was a huge battery pack(hip mounted) with a chord attaching to the glasses. His company had the power supply near the ear(it was smaller but didn't have enough juice to last hours). These examples(north glasses) seem pretty simple with just basic info being piped out, the two examples I mentioned above you could play movies and watch detailed realistic meta scenes imposed on reality.

If power can be figured out in small form factor the end results could really be incredible. After trying out the demo AR glasses to my family members company(5 years ago) it was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen and felt like sci-fi come true.

Good point on the battery life. One mitigation would be allowing quick (wireless?) charging from existing devices like smartphones, but there would still need to be a minimally viable battery life. Example is the first Apple Watch that targeted a day's worth.

I imagine system performance would be another early issue. Again in the example of first Apple Watch, it was nothing more than a display to render the paired iPhone's content. It wasn't until the 3rd generation that it became more standalone and able to function without a "co-device".

Come to think of it in the case of the rumored Apple Glass, its rollout/development might be similar to that of the Watch. First couple of generations are heavily, if not entirely, dependent on the iPhone for data processing. But eventually it'll come into its own - thanks to the strength of Apple's custom silicon development.

I think the biggest problem is the social cost. They weren't called glassholes for nothing. Maybe the stigma will be over with better use cases, like filming the police when in public.

My recollection is that the ‘glasshole’ thing was down to a combination of the perceived privacy intrusion of the glasses bearing a camera, the significant cost of the early editions, and a broader anger (at roughly the same time) directed at big tech companies in SF.

Interestingly, there didn’t seem to be a similar backlash against the Snapchat smart glasses which came later, despite their raison d’etre being photos/video. (Cheaper? Better marketing? Or different time/social context?)

Anyway, I don’t think it’s a given at all that smart glasses will always come with a social stigma - they probably won’t, as long as the original Google Glasses missteps/bad luck is avoided.

What's the rumored price? They reportedly raised $200M. Employees get nothing, I'm guessing. Well, a secure job at Google is a decent consolation prize, at least.

$180M from what I read. Seems they were acquired because sales were almost non-existent and they were running out of money.

You had to show up in person to their store in Vancouver to actually buy them didn't you?

IIRC the price point was on the right side of a pay-day impulse buy, but Im not going to spend the money to get to vancouver to spend that money.

Employees are not guaranteed employment at Google. I'm sure a good chunk will be let go as part of this acquisition.

I'm curious how this usually plays out. Do employees of acquired companies need to go through the google interview process?

Unless they're part of leadership they usually do, yes.

Does that really happen? I figured that an event like this is a good excuse to clean house a bit, but it seemed to me that this was the exception rather than the rule- how common is this and what is the process by which one gets unemployed?

Chaos Monkeys talks a bit about this where they had acquisition interest but not all the founders/employees passed the interviews

Coming from industries where RSU and stock options are unheard of (read: most industries outside tech) "employees get nothing" seems really foreign. It's nothing I would ever expect regardless of price.

Many of these employees were likely working for below market salaries after being sold on the high potential value of their options.

I'm not arguing anything about whether this is right or wrong (particularly in this case), but I believe this is also uncommon outside of tech.

There are probably more analogous situations in e.g. law or sales, where you still have a clear employee relationship with the company but compensation is may not be a vanilla salary.

If you're working at a startup you have (usually) taken on risk + a lower salary in exchange for ownership, so it is expected and disappointing when a sale gets nothing for employees. If they are paid market rates with stock/options not part of their compensation that would be different

Not acquihire. Employees are not moving to alphabet.

North was a scam, and was about to be bought by patent trolls. This was a legal move by alphabet. They pretty much paid ransom to the North (Thalmic labs) founders to not be harassed by trolls later on.

I guess it at least shows that google haven't abandoned google-glass entirely (or their legal dept doesn't know they aren't in the glass business any more, i wouldn't doubt it)

> Not acquihire. Employees are not moving to alphabet.

Do you have inside information? The announcement implies acquihire. You don't explicitly say where people will be working for you if they're not going to be working for you.

> They'll join the Google team based in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada—North’s hometown and an area with impressive tech talent. We're excited to welcome our new colleagues, and committed to the growing global tech community of Kitchener-Waterloo.

That’s the public message. Their HR will probably cherry pick some, sometimes even such scammers happen to have not yet corrupt talent. Other than that the IP situation would be the only sensible explanation of this deal.

Do you think the dollar amount is real? I often see massively inflated numbers that represent the amount a company is going to invest in e.g. their own product division that will contain the acquired IP. It’s in everybody’s interest to inflate the numbers.

Smart Glasses?! Please!

I've been waiting since forever. This is the only "smart" tech I've been so interested in. I already wear glasses, why not make them more useful?

Meanwhile watches get in the way of using keyboards and interacting with things, and you constantly take them off. Can't use them if your hand is busy either, like holding a drink. They're not as convenient as they seem.

Think the watches are primarily suppose to be used on the go. Like working out, walking around town or glancing at while driving.

Not sitting at a desk with a Mountain Dew in one hand and your mouse in the other. Synced desktop notification or smartphone on a stand seems like a better option for that.

Working out is bike rides for me, so that means taking my hand off the bars. I mean, in comparison to a phone, what does the watch offer when you're lifting? How will you dismiss a notification? What's the real difference between just picking up the phone or having the phone or a tablet mounted somewhere you can see at all times?

I do a lot of walking downtown and half the time I have a cup of coffee in my hands or something else. Responding or interacting with the watch becomes impossible without two hands or I guess talking into it.

You need two hands to use a watch: one to bring it your face, and the other to interact with it.

Believe me, I want to use a smart watch; it feels like every kid would have wanted one back in the day. But when you think about them, they're not as useful as they seem due to many factors, and I think most people get that, because you don't see many people wearing them. They're definitely still a niche product.

But how many people wear glasses? What if they did more than help you just see better? How many people might drop contacts for that value, even? (Some people wear glasses over contacts purely for fashion.)

You don't have to do anything to see information in your always-present glasses, and you only need one hand to operate them. Alternatively, a mic would be closer to your mouth so that's more functional than bringing your hand to your face to give commands as well.

Smart watches are not a niche product in 2020. Apple shipped 31 million smart watches in 2019, more than the entire Swiss watch market combined (according to The Verge). Samsung and Garmin sell millions of watches too, and almost every serious outdoorsy type person wears at least one of these brands as a fitness tracker.

That's where you're missing the point. Smart watches have become popular because of the fitness component, and have also shown great versatility beyond that, including invoking a voice assistant and screening notifications.

I haven't taken my phone off silent in years, I will only have my watch on vibrate and a select few apps filtered to send notifications to my phone. The rest are not of immediate consequence, so I don't get them "in real time". Plus, if the watch is off my wrist, it vibrates my desk just like a phone. Notifications are dismissed automatically after a timeout, or a button to dismiss.

I find my glasses come off for far more serious activities than my watch. I never intended for my watch to be a phone replacement where I can respond to messages, but it's sure good at letting me know a message needs my attention.

A few things a watch offers you while lifting, specifically:

- rep counting

- heart rate monitoring

- music, without a phone, by pairing a BT headset directly to the watch

A few more things smart watches are great at:

- forget your wallet in the car? Contactless payments. Or, buy a bottle of water in the middle of a run or bike.

- sleep tracking

- leave your phone in your pocket more and enjoy life

- don't even bring your phone on a run, built in GPS tracks for you

- don't even bring your phone on a bike, same reason

- built in topo maps for hiking

When you think about it, smart watches are /far/ more useful than they seem because of all the tech and sensors packed into a device that (potentially) lasts days at a time. And I think most people get that, which is why smart watches are already a huge industry.

Same, I have been really excited for smart glasses tech, but it only leads to disappointment as no company is interested in making smart glasses for people who wear glasses. They all just want to make glasses for people who don't wear glasses.

I'm keeping my eye out for the Bosch Lightdrive. Presented at the last CES, no specific release dates for products using that technology yet.

Do you think you'll be able to opt out of location tracking with google's smart glasses?

This was actually one of the first times/places Google really upset me from a privacy standpoint, back in 2012 or so: I had Google Glass, Explorer Edition, and it's software was written to upload any photo you took to Google Photos. As an Android device with USB support, you could download the photos direct on a PC, and delete them before it did so. However, if it had Wi-Fi and power and it had photos, Google uploaded them without consent.

They repeatedly refused to offer an option to disable photo sync, even when they added a whole settings bundle to manage the sync settings. (Essentially, they started letting you tell it to upload photos even over cellular data, but still neglected to add a "just don't upload the photos automatically" option.)

Google is already tracking my location through my phone (which I don't mind, I love looking at my location history and stats).

A few more years will see good options. The HL2 is the experience, but not the form factor

I was hoping that North would license their display technology to someone that would build practical smart sunglasses for endurance athletes. There are a few heads-up display products available now for cyclists but they are all flawed in various ways, and there's nothing that works for runners. Unfortunately I don't think Google understands or cares about the sports tech market.

From a customer perspective I would pay $1000 today for a pair of smart prescription sunglasses that could link to my fitness tracker as an ANT+ extended display and show a few key data field including speed, distance, heart rate, and power. That would be super helpful for racing and structured training.

And I could use a pair that could display some data from AvPlan EFB while I am flying, but everyone wants to chase general purpose instead of starting with a niche and then growing it.

> Lastly is our appreciation for Focals 1.0 customers who share our vision of everyday smart glasses. We are winding down Focals 1.0 and we will not be shipping Focals 2.0

From the blog at bynorth.com ... I guess that's one way to show your appreciation!

Well that's disappointing.

It seemed like they had cool products, and it's too bad to see it bought up by an advertising/spyware company with a history of killing products.

the products are already killed as a part of this acquisition. Google must think the market is worth pursuing if they're willing to dish out $180 million for the company, but considering they simultaneously announced the end of all product sales and no more focals 2.0, this is pretty clearly an acquisition for the patents and talent. They were already close to running out of money.


They are also bricking the devices at the end of July

dont worry soon your options will be Apple or Alibabe/Huawei.

Microsoft is in the running as well with the most advanced device available today. This could be the one chance to get back into the consumer market if they have the desire.

In addition to everything below, a great way to expand their Canadian presence to get around problems with American immigration laws.

Sad. I have their Myo band sitting around, but the company appears to never have gotten a solid hit. RIP Thalmic/North.

It'd be nice if Google was somehow prohibited from snapping up even more companies while under numerous investigations for antitrust during a global pandemic, but I think that attempted legislation has fallen flat.

Looks like North wasnt doing too well selling their tech. Would it preferable if Microsoft or Apple or Amazon or some chinese company picked them up instead ?

Microsoft or Apple or Amazon would all be preferable to Google, actually, yes. Good ideas go to Google to die.

Like Youtube, Android, Firebase, etc?

I cannot imagine North has something that Google doesn't already have. Strange buyout decision in my opinion.

North bought the Intel Vaunt IP and improved it, so they actually do have some very impressive tech.

Just more proof that Google needs to acquire companies to compete:

- Phones? Google buys Motorolla and HTC's smartphone division.

- Watches? Google buys Fitbit and Fossil (the smartwatch side)

- AR? Google buys North

I don't know why Google's Product team gets the prestige it does, when the last successful product it _didn't_ buy was GMail.

Google has failed to compete in all three of those things (in terms of hardware), so maybe they need to stop trying the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result.

This acquisition along with the Fitbit deal sets up Google perfectly to dominate the health wearables market.

"Dominate" for 2 years until it doesn't have billions of users and they drop it into the google mass grave.

I'd love some smart glasses for running / cycling. No need to look at handlebar for stats / gps would be huge

Isn't the Fitbit acquisition being contested currently due to privacy concerns?

I highlight the Apple Watch’s FDA approval as a medical monitoring device as a counterpoint. This was in 2018. Wearables for health have been approved, legally speaking, already for some time now.

Fair point. I didn't realize the FDA had already started looking at the wearable space in such detail. Pretty forward-looking / perceptive of them.

I think this is a pretty solid acquisition by google. I have doubts that the tech from North will be able to match the tech in the "upcoming" apple ar glasses, but things will probably eventually match up, like Android and iOS.

> We call this ambient computing.

Wow, it sounds like "IoT" is getting a makeover. Will this become the new more palatable vogue term for total immersion in corporate-owned wireless electronics?

Smart glasses were a gimmick back when they were first designed and implemented in the 60s/70s, and they will continue to be a gimmick, especially if G takes them on.

Nothing against North in particular, I just think that it's a recipe for disaster to have every minute of a human's waking life tracked by Google. Color me a cynic, but I'm not optimistic about the future of this technology, especially in the hands of big G.

I just hope it can be reprogrammed with custom firmware by some great people. My Oculus Go is ancient, but it does way more than it was supposed to thanks to some smart hackers.

Everything they did was closed source, there wasn't even ever an official SDK for others to make apps for it. I don't see there being enough of them out there for the intersection of "have a pair of Focals" and "can reverse engineer an app & device that talk over bluetooth" for this to end up anywhere close to Pebble/Rebble. And I think a custom firmware is basically out of the question.

That's not to say that I wouldn't love to see either of those happen. I'd be willing to donate my soon-to-be-a-brick Focals to someone that has a history of reverse engineering weird embedded ARM devices. Ideally you'd get it before the end of July so you can have a hope of sniffing bluetooth traffic.

Looks like North is heading South.

I look forward to everything North ever was or did being chucked down the memory hole in 3-10 years, as is tradition

If you look at what they've released, it seems this was the best outcome. I don't know if Focals 2.0 were ever going to see the light of day, and Focals 1 plus the Myo weren't exactly a hit.

I do feel bad for the employees whose options are now worthless though, and even worse if they'd already exercised them.

Not brave enough to say it to my friends but I would really love a pair of smart glasses

It sounds great, and I've used a few, but you can't realistically walk around wearing them in the current form without people looking at you odd. It's not worth what they offer to be that much of a negative focus (see glassholes commentary for examples). I love new tech, but I won't touch smart glasses until you can't tell they are smart glasses. The Focals were closer but still very clearly weird looking and bulky when worn

Will they keep most of the North team @ the google Kitchener-Waterloo location?

Always a bit sad when Canadian companies get acquired by the US behemoths

> 10 blue links on a PC

are they blue because they're all from advertisers?

tl;dr what do I do about recycling my Focals, ring, and case, given the difficulties a generic e-waste facility will have in removing the highly integrated batteries from the Focals and case? Also, if you have a startup making pretty, highly integrated devices, please have a plan for recycling your devices when they inevitably turn into bricks.

I was a little surprised to hear that the acquisition is going to turn my Focals into a pair of chunky-looking, prescriptionless eyeglasses, and the carrying case into an alcantera-lined brick. I would like to recycle these, but I'm not sure how. The post-acquisition FAQ only seems to cover what's happening to their products/services, how we're going to get refunds (wasn't expecting that), and how to wipe my Focals.

My main concern in recycling these is the highly integrated batteries. The Focals, the ring, and the case all have batteries that I can't access and can't see, and I don't see too many screw holes (though I admittedly haven't looked). Given what I've seen of e-waste recycling processes, I don't see anyone taking the time to carefully opening these up to get the batteries out, and I doubt they would try cracking them open like a crab to get at the battery, given the risk of possibly breaking a battery or cutting onesself on something sharp.

Ideally, I would be able to just ship them my Focals and they would take care of recycling properly, but providing instructions on how to remove the battery or the types of facilities that would be capable of recycling these things would be a start.

Also, I'd like to make a request of all of you: if you are or are ever involved with a startup that is making pretty, highly-integrated devices, please have a plan on how to recycle your devices when they inevitably turn to bricks. Hell, make it part of your acquisition message so customers won't just throw them in the trash (or blindly throw them into the single-stream recycling expecting it to get handled there and have it end up back in the trash) and dump more lithium into landfills.

How can you buy a cardinal direction?

MARCH 19, 2020: North Wearables Looks for a Buyer While Cash Is Running Out https://outline.com/aKLaPA (from Bloomberg, just without the paywall)

Three more to go.

> We are winding down Focals 1.0 and we will not be shipping Focals 2.0, but we hope you will continue the journey with us as we start this next chapter.

Isn't this just a classic acquihire?

I'm sure it will be on Our Incredible Journey soon.


Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News?

I don't know if it really fits the spirit of the site if this aquisition is explicitly for the people and patents, they announce that the product is shutting down at the same time, and are giving out refunds. The spirit of ourincrediblejourney always felt to me more of when a company puts on a show at acquisition talking about how the acquisition will allow for all sorts of new growth and opportunities and then a few months later the service gets quietly shut down.

I just can't see how these are better than smartwatches.

It's early but imagine a world where your vision is enhanced with overlays and information about your surroundings. Where your task cna be visually aided. Where sight disabilities can be corrected.

This has been military, sci-fi and video game HUD territory for so long, but that can change.

Try the Hololens 2 and you will never want to go back to the 2d again

So we have a new king in the North

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