Google Purchases Augmented Reality Smart Glasses Maker North

KEY POINTS

  • Google announced Tuesday it had acquired Canadian tech company North, which specializes in augmented reality technology
  • Details of the purchase has not been released, but it is believed Google bought North for the “firesale” price of $200 million
  • North had been struggling financially over the last year and a half due to problems surrounding the release of their first smart glasses and dumping resources into development of its second pair

Google announced Tuesday it had acquired North, a Canadian tech company previously backed by both Amazon and Intel. North specialized in the developing wearable augmented reality products, namely glasses, similar to Google Glass.

The Globe and Mail first reported about Google’s interest last week, citing sources the tech giant sought to purchase the Canadian company for around $180 million, a figure below the reported price of $200 million.

The biggest contributor for the purchase was funds drying up while developing the Focals 2.0 augmented reality glasses. The first Focals were released in 2018 at $999 and were meant to connect to a user’s smartphone over Bluetooth. Users would receive visual and audio notifications while being able to use a built-in microphone to issue commands via Alexa or similar programs.

However, problems emerged shortly after release as the Focals. First, the glasses required custom fitting that was only available at a store in Toronto and another in New York City. In early 2019, the price was cut to $600 and around 150 employees were laid off. North sought to speed up development of the Focals 2.0 and decided to pour all its resources into development, forcing it to pull the Focals.

North’s revenue ultimately dried up despite raising around $200 million and management began hearing offers to buy the company in early 2020.

While neither shared details, the two companies on Tuesday released public comments.

“North’s technical expertise will help as we continue to invest in our hardware efforts and ambient computing future,” Google executive Rick Osterloh said in the statement. “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.”

North’s founders Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey, and Aaron Grant echoed Osterloh in their statement, saying Google presented the best avenue to continue advancing their vision for augmented reality tech.

“Over the last while, it became clear that aligning with Google would significantly advance our shared vision,” the statement said. “This acquisition is a terrific fit for North and, importantly, we’re staying here in Kitchener-Waterloo. We’re proud to have grown our company in the Kitchener-Waterloo region and are thankful for the tremendous support we’ve received from the community. We are looking forward to remaining in the region with Google.”

Serenity smart eyeglasses from France-based startup Ellcie Healthy are displayed at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show Photo: AFP / Robyn Beck