Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Jul 2020

Focals & Optical Wearable Challenges

screenshot of Focals by North 27 Jul announcement There’s something a bit rough and almost ironic about hearing about optical wearable companies no longer going forward. One would imagine, if they offered the advances in connected vision, they’d almost see coming when products are/aren’t viable.

@JoannaStern via Twitter regarding Focals by North

But this is the actual challenge with these kinds of explorations and experiments, especially in a space so personal as wearables. The route to profitability, reputability, and varying levels of customer acceptance is not a simple one. In order to maximize prospects on any of those areas, there’s got to be great levels of focus, and even greater levels of restraint.

In this viewer’s opinion — one who uses both [Vue Glasses](https:/ vueglasses.com) and Snap’s Spectacles — there wasn’t as much simplicity in focus from the folks at Focals by North. Was it for directions, or for notifications? It needed a secondary controller, which was not as sleek/stylish as the primary. There was no voice-controller, the ring control was it. And lastly, where it had a good leg into wanting to be a part of using Amazon’s Alexa framework, those bits didn’t materialize and it was left using a homegrown operating system, and building both viability and reputation without others names.

Now, Focals seemed primed for some good steps forward when looked at its purchase by Google. However, aside from the laser tech for the augmented vision, there was not much more on Focals which was not already on Google’s (still shipping) Glass v2 product. Unfortunately, things changed and what was a “phasing out at the end of 2020” now is a “phasing out at the end of July 2020.” Tough for the folks who purchased this highly personalized product… perhaps also for those who have been looking at optical wearables as a “next step” for wearables, but missing what simple and focus might need to look like.

What does simple and focus look like? Or, what challenges can be met?

Base functionality should not depend on proprietary tech. Meaning items such as being a replacement Bluetooth headset should use normal BT protocols. Audio controllers might be touch or gesture based, but these too should be hooked into standard audio controller APIs.

Features such as augmented vision might have proprietary bits, but file transfer from the devices should leverage normal OBEX and similar protocols. I’d imagine that Focals, much like Snap, wraps videos and images in their own format for ease of working in their specific operating systems. Other special features would be what the company adds, and this would be the piece the companies would either rise or fall with their unique value prop.

All of this to say, no one wants their companies to be acquired and/or stuttered. However, to be a product which survives long enough to be valued, you’ve got to do more than just release everything you imagine. Find the sim0e thing on top of the basic thing, focus on doing that extraordinary well. And then build out from there. Focals, in my opinion, had the augmented vision, but should have went with Alexa integration harder than anything else. Sizing, the shopping experience, etc., all of those are great, but would be bette for a second generation release, not a first. Still, they shipped, sold, and were acquired. To that end, perhaps it was a success.

Would have been better for them if they could have see this end of things occurring.