Google Buys North
You may not be familiar with North and their Focals product, but today Google officially announced they are buying the company and absorbing them into their Made by Google hardware group. North is possibly the closest thing on the market to a future augmented reality/ambient computing solution consumers can get their hands on. I’ve personally spent some time with a version of Focals 1.0, and while interesting, it only deepened my conviction of how far off augmented reality is from a consumer market reality.
But ultimately, this acquisition helps Google advance from both a software and hardware standpoint as they acquire the talent and technology North was working on. I never had a chance to demo North Focals 2.0, but they looked to be a big step up from the 1.0 versions. Due to this acquisition, North won’t ship their 2.0 versions, but my gut is this puts Google in a position to bring to market a smart glasses solution in 2021 that may check all the boxes of a version 1.0 AR/ambient computing platform.
I’ve done quite a bit of user research on augmented reality the past two years, and Focals 1.0 was a solution we tested and got user feedback on. In every bit of research, we did the excitement was there on what AR/smart glasses could potentially become, but the experience has always been lacking. That being said, the smart assistant and voice-based computing solution will be a critical component of smart glasses experience, and as of now, Google is best positioned with this technology. It is telling that the blog post from Rick Osterloh Senior Vice President, Devices & Services, positions this acquisition as a part of Google’s ambition and focus on helpful devices.
Ultimately this space is starting to shape up interestingly from a competitive standpoint since Apple is rumored to also be looking to ship an AR glasses solution in 2021. However, as exciting as a pair of AR glasses from Apple will be, I fear they will struggle if Siri does not dramatically improve in all-around intelligence. Apple’s AR Kit continues to impress, but that has to be mapped with cutting edge ML and AI to fill the gaps in human interface models. Apple needs to keep investing heavily in this area since Google has the edge here for now.
All around, I like this acquisition, and I’m excited to see what Google does with it.
Amazon Buy’s Zoox
Zoox never had a chance to bring their solution to the market, but it was one of the more interesting technologies in development. Their car/transport pods were being developed with tires that can rotate to help the car move sideways, which I thought was interesting, particularly for dense metropolitan areas.
Zoox was focusing more on Robo-taxis, but they were also busy mapping a number of metropolitans areas. I thought this tweet from Elon Musk was entertaining when he saw the news.
I’m not sure what Elon is interpreting Amazon will do with Zoox, but I can say with certainty it will largely be for Amazon’s deliver fleet of vehicles at least to start. My gut is Amazon will be laser-focused on the commercial side of this technology, where Tesla is still more focused on the consumer side of vehicle automation.
If an Amazon facing consumer car is in their future, it is a long way out.
Lulu Buys Mirror
Another interesting acquisition was by popular athletic clothing maker Lululemon agreeing to purchase Mirror, a hardware-based startup that developed a mirror display for fitness. The Mirror and screen are simply a display, but I had heard they were seeing an uptick in sales thanks to COVID-19, which makes it an interesting time for Lululemon to pull the trigger on the acquisition.
The amount of the acquisition is $500m, which does not seem like a lot. However, it is interesting to see an athletic brand move to make a technology acquisition like this right now. I think Lululemon feels the situation with COVID-19 presents an opportunity for home-based fitness, and they see a path to integrate services and commerce more directly into the Mirror product.
I played golf with the Lululemon COO last summer (happy accident just happened to be in my foursome), and she was extremely well informed on the industry and technology and gave some insight into how Lululemon thinks. I’m not generally in favor of a clothing company getting into technology, but from what I heard about how Lululemon thinks, this will be interesting to watch from an execution standpoint.
Lastly, for what it is worth. I know six people who purchased a Mirror during this nationwide shelter in place, and they all had nothing but nice things to say about it.