Five years ago we quietly began a journey to accomplish three things:
- Make a pair of smart glasses look like regular glasses.
- Create an experience on them that is useful and intuitive, not overwhelming or distracting.
- Build a different kind of company to make the above possible.
Today, we’re introducing Focals as the first public step of that journey.
Focals are stylish smart glasses with a transparent, full-color display that connects you to the things you care about. You can go here to learn more about them and pre-order a pair.
Focals began with the belief that technology’s role in our lives was changing. We’re spending more and more time with our devices and less in the real world - always worried about missing something somewhere. We believe that there’s a different path, one where we can get the benefits technology provides without being pulled away from what’s in front of you; spending less time staring at screens, and more time out in the world.
For us, the way to build that future is through smart glasses - but with a different approach. No monsters jumping out of walls, no app-vortexes, no giant headset. Just beautiful, everyday glasses that connect you to the things you care about.
For eyewear, design and style need to come first. It’s incredibly personal and customizable category. Each pair needs to be thoughtfully selected to fit our unique proportions, preferences, and aesthetic. It’s a considered, emotional decision. That process is very much at odds with how products in the consumer electronics industry are typically designed and sold.
Others have tried and failed to build smart glasses people love because they started with function and fought their way back to form - we did it the other way around. We painstakingly crafted an aesthetic for Focals that was bold enough to make a statement, but discreet enough for everyday wear. We built in vision correction to every pair (assuming you need it), and are offering thousands of different colors, styles and size combinations to choose from. Each pair is built bespoke for you right here in Canada.
Building a New Experience
Beyond design, we faced a huge challenge when it came to understanding how Focals would work. What does the display even look like? How do you control them? Should they have a camera? Your line of sight is valuable real estate - we knew from the outset that we couldn’t just slap a phone screen in front of your eye.
We arrived at an interface that feels immediate and glanceable, but also minimalistic. It doesn’t take over what you’re seeing or the world around you. Instead it features small, utilitarian pieces of information that float an arm’s length in front of you that you can view, act on or dismiss. We’re starting with text messaging, calendar, turn-by-turn directions, weather, Amazon Alexa and Uber and will be expanding from there. We intentionally chose to build experiences that were made to take out into the world with you, beyond the confines of your living room.
The instantaneous nature of the interface gives you the feeling of, “I can do this vs. it can do this.” With Focals, you get the sensation that you’re extending what feels like your own abilities rather than relying on a box that can do something on your behalf.
Designed to Be Off
A unique aspect of the Focals design process has been the idea of ‘designed to be off’ that has underscored how we think about the product. It’s a point of view that lets us filter the experience we choose to offer on Focals.
Interactions are designed to get you to what’s important, then back to what’s in front of us, as quickly as possible. Interactions are 5, 10, perhaps 15 seconds, built to fit into those little moments we have as we walk to the elevator, head out the door, wait for a coffee, etc.
This is contrasted with how most technology products are designed, which are architected to draw us in, maximize our time on an app, often supporting business models that are driven by advertising and screen time.
A Different Kind of Company
In the early days of this idea, when we were first talking to suppliers, almost every one told us the same thing: “there’s no way you can do this.” A pair of smart glasses that looked good and also had the functionality we wanted simply couldn’t be built with the current off-the-shelf technology. The precision we needed, along with the specifications and tolerances we asked for, were all too rigid for what was out there.
So, we started with our vision for the product and worked backward from there.
Making our early vision a reality required decisions and investments that are atypical of a startup (or even some bigger companies): a large in-house R&D department, a 56,000 square foot manufacturing facility down the road, a built-from-the-ground-up OS, an array of specialists hired from Canada and around the world (thanks, in-part, to Canadian immigration law), our own retail stores in Toronto and Brooklyn and a huge investment our own proprietary retinal projection technology. We chose to make this all happen here in Waterloo, outside of the Silicon Valley echo chamber.
By the end of the year, we’ll have hired nearly 500 people and will have hundreds of patents and patent applications in our portfolio spanning display technologies, manufacturing, software, holography, product design, user experience and more. Not exactly typical of a start-up, or even a growth-stage company, but required to get where we wanted to be.
For us, Focals are only the first step. We’ve been working in tandem on future generations of this product which help to continue to refine and expand on our initial vision. This is just the start of an entirely new category that has the potential to change how we see and interact with our world. We can’t wait for you to join us on this journey.