Focals 'Smart' Glasses Become Dumb As A Brick After Google Acquisition

from the you-don't-own-what-you-buy dept

Time and time again we've highlighted how, in the modern era, you don't really own the hardware you buy. Music, ebooks, and videos can disappear on a dime without recourse, your game console can lose important features after a purchase, and a wide variety of "smart" tech can quickly become dumb as a rock in the face of company struggles, hacks, or acquisitions, leaving you with pricey paperweights where innovation once stood.

The latest case in point: Google acquired Waterloo, Ontario based North back in June. For several years, North had been selling AR capable "smart" glasses dubbed Focal. Generally well reviewed, Focal glasses started at $600, went dramatically up from there, and required you visit one of two North stores -- either in Brooklyn or Toronto -- to carefully measure your head using 11 3D modeling cameras. The glasses themselves integrated traditional prescription glasses with smart technology, letting you enjoy a heads up display and AR notifications directly from your phone.

But with the Google acquisition, North posted a statement to its website, stating the company was forced to make the "difficult decision" to wind down support for Focal as of the end of July, at which point the "smart" tech will become rather dumb:

The full blog post notes that not only will it be killing off all online functionality for its first generation of Focal glasses, but it's cancelling production of its second generation, Focal 2.0 product:

"Focals smart glasses and its services are being discontinued and will no longer be available after July 31st, 2020. You won’t be able to connect your glasses through the app or use any features, abilities, or experiments from your glasses...We will not be shipping Focals 2.0, but we hope you will continue the journey with us as we start this next chapter."

Fortunately, the company says it's giving an automatic refund to all Focals 1.0 customers, though we'll have to see how well that works out in practice as the company shifts the lion's share of its focus toward getting swallowed up by Google and spending wheelbarrows full of acquisition money. Still, whether it's your smart glasses or your smart pet food bowl, it's yet another example of how sticking with dumb tech is very often less hassle and the better option.

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Filed Under: ar, brick, focals, ownership, smart technology
Companies: google, north


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  • identicon
    Zonker, 7 Aug 2020 @ 3:57pm

    Has Google become the EA of 'smart' device acquisition?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      murgatroyd (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 4:31pm

      Re:

      They've become the little kid who gets a new toy, plays with it for a while, then gets bored of it and leaves it laying in the yard somewhere before forgetting it completely.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 8:53pm

      Re:

      Seems more like the 3E of MS.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2020 @ 1:05am

      Re:

      Yes. this is why I and every single person I know is avoiding Stadia like the plague.

      Basically you'll be left with a brick in a few months, Google will refund the brick cost but say the games were 'licensed' therefore subscription not refundable.

      Google planned to kill Stadia within 12-24months from day one. There MUST be a reason.

      Maybe someone at Google saw the movie 'the producers' and thought tax evasion and avoidance was a smart business plan?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 2:48am

      Re:

      "Has Google become the EA of 'smart' device acquisition?"

      Yes and no. It's not clear much of the North purchase is based on acquiring the IP portfolio Google needs to expand and maintain its own smart glass lead - bear in mind Google went on a similar acquisition spree right before the launch of Android and their very first Pixel.

      EA buys game companies because they want a market monopoly and no competitors. Google has historically been more keen on trying to compete with innovation and convenient tech rather than by simply throwing bags of money at the competition until they go away.

      I'm not sure which particular shade of ethically gray Google is running, but I'm fairly sure any comparison to EA ethics is going to be like comparing the Sackville Baggins to Sauron.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 4:30pm

    I used to be an early adopter of new technology.

    Now not so much anymore. If it requires internet connection to function or has DRM in it, I'm not buying it.

    If it has a name like John Deere on it, I'm not buying that either. Nor will I buy from the makers of the Nest thermostat (now google) nor from Phillips (maker of Hue lighting) nor Krurig (maker of coffee makers), nor digital tunes or ebooks, all for the same reasons. My list is not limited to only these makers of products.

    If it requires internet connection or has DRM in it, you never know how long you have, till some bright corporation yoyo decides there is a new way to bilk the customer or till a merger wipes out what you bought and makes it a nothing-burger.

    This problem has been demonstrated over and over again as to the real idea you don't own it and putting it out for anything other than rental prices makes it a product not worth buying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 2:54am

      Re:

      " I used to be an early adopter of new technology."
      "Now not so much anymore. If it requires internet connection to function or has DRM in it, I'm not buying it."

      I'd argue anyone with a background in tech today says the same. From the early days when Microsoft offered "upgrades" by ramming early untested alpha versions of their OS down the throat of customers - and made them pay for it it's been pretty clear that unless the tech is tried and tested it's not reliable.

      And the various forms of online dependency only adds another layer of fraud and attempted control over the customer base to that. Unless your newly bought device can work in full, offline, it's garbage you may have paid money for but still don't own.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BernardoVerda (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 4:51pm

    I tweeted this article.
    But #YouDontOwnWhatYouBought seems a little awkward (and maybe too long).
    Anybody got a better suggestion?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 6:06pm

    Fortunately, the company says it's giving an automatic refund to all Focals 1.0 customers

    Some Techdirt commenters have compared IoT "purchases" to rentals. This makes such comparisons hard to avoid. Effectively, the "purchasers" have given the company an interest-free loan to develop their technology, in exchange for the temporary use of that technology. It might be better for everyone to agree, up front, that this is the deal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 8:09pm

      Re:

      Effectively, the "purchasers" have given the company an interest-free loan to develop their technology, in exchange for the temporary use of that technology. It might be better for everyone to agree, up front, that this is the deal.

      Or consumers should demand that the devices be fully usable without the only-really-used-for-ad-revenue internet connection.

      There's been very little reason for these devices to require an internet connection in the first place. Why should the fitness tracker app require an internet connection? It's supposed to connect to the fitness tracker and pull data from there. Why should my DLSR camera sync app need an internet connection? Again, the device it needs to talk to is sitting right next to it. Why does the single player card game need an internet connection? It doesn't even support multiplayer to begin with and as such has no reason to talk to anything. Often the answer with all of these is either a petty data sync service (How many phones do you use on a constant basis to need such a service? and why can't you just use bluetooth, NFC, or even wifi to sync the data?) or for blatant spying for ad revenue.

      Consumers need to demand this stuff be fully usable offline. Only then will the constant stream of IoTrash finally start to end.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 8:57pm

        Re: Re:

        Of course AR display glasses need to connect to a remote server so they can BT connect to a phone. It's right there in the Laws of Nature, Revised Edition.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2020 @ 8:28am

        Re: Re:

        Or consumers should demand that the devices be fully usable without the only-really-used-for-ad-revenue internet connection.

        Of course. I'd go further and say they should demand source code and the ability to replace any built-in software. If the whole point of the device is access via the internet—e.g., an internet-accessible camera—and the vendor stops supplying security updates, we need some way to deal with that.

        Whatever they might promise, what's going to happen if they break their promise? If this went to class-action, you might get a few bucks 5 years after it stops working. If this went to the FTC, they'd make the company promise not to lie again, or else they'd be fined like 10% of their ill-gotten profits. Realistically, a full refund is amazingly good.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 9 Aug 2020 @ 1:27pm

        Re: Re:

        Consumers need to demand this stuff be fully usable offline.

        Consumers aren't generally willing to pay for that. Given a choice between free ad/spy supported stuff, and expensive stuff that doesn't phone home or even require internet to function, they'll generally pick the former. Open source hasn't really taken hold in the mobile or IoT world, so those are generally the options.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 2:55am

      Re:

      "It might be better for everyone to agree, up front, that this is the deal."

      Ah, but a profit-making corporation really doesn't want to acknowledge that the customer is overpaying for en effective lend/lease. Marketing wouldn't wear it!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2020 @ 6:45pm

    and spending wheelbarrows full of acquisition money.

    ...that all depends on how the stock (and options) are distributed. Could be a payday for the founders and the boot for everyone else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DB (profile), 8 Aug 2020 @ 10:08am

      Re:

      A deal like is often a payday for the investors and the specific executives negotiating the deal, and a token amount for the founders, employees and redundant executives.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Aug 2020 @ 10:37pm

    Weren't there a whole bunch of generic smartwatches?

    I seem to recall that there's a market of smartwatches that fit into iOS, Windows Mobile or Android and serve a robust enough range of functions to still get bought.

    I'd think it would make sense to create a standard driver package that works similarly for glasses, so that you can choose your app along with your OS and glasses make and still get a viable, compatible function.

    Essentially, when it comes to my devices, I look for this level of integration before purchasing them, or I purchase them at great discount, knowing they're going to die from obsolescence.

    It's not a lesson I learned for free. I bought a Rokbox media player that was only a few updates of WMP from obsolescence, after which it wouldn't even function as a hard drive. I can't afford for my stuff to suddenly go obsolete because some company just decides it's not worth their time to continue supporting it.

    Though it is crazy that yes, the end-user is the one with the burden of diligence to make sure a unit will be supported well enough to work. I think the failure of society to require standards of support creates a right-to-repair by default.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2020 @ 9:32am

    When I got a Garmin watch, one of my questions was "Do I still have access to the information if the company stops supporting it?" The answer appeared to be "yes" because you can connect the watch to a computer, and all the log files and config files show up on a USB drive connection.

    Then last week hit, and Garmin Connect went down. Suddenly my watch wasn't getting notifications from my phone, even though that has nothing to do with being online. But the app was designed to connect to their server as one of the first things it did when started up... and if there's no response, it crashes.

    Thankfully I figured out a way around that (just disable network connections before launching the app), but it just shows you that even stuff that's designed in an appropriate manner can get messed up by a single programmer's assumption that their SaaS systems will always be available.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2020 @ 2:52am

      Re:

      That sounds like a matter of programming testing gone wrong. "Fail fast" is easier to debug and would let them know quickly if the connection got messed up. Unfortunately they assumed cannot access it means the error was at their end.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 12 Aug 2020 @ 11:46am

    It's going to get to the point where people will be complaining that they can't flush their "smart" toilets because the company dropped support for them.

    Frankly, I'd like to know why the whole world has become convinced that nothing electronic can function without an internet connection. I lost net access for four days starting last Friday. I couldn't go online, but everything in my home, including my computer, still functioned just fine.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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