Google has been quietly investing in the Metaverse, although it refers to this as ambient computing, and it got a boost with an acquisition in 2020.
Google was among the first companies to launch augmented reality glasses, yet it’s now in a position of playing catch-up after backing away from public outrage. Meta has made it clear it is pushing forward in 2022, and Apple is rumored to be launching its secret headset next year as well, perhaps forcing Google’s hand.
AR is a worrisome proposition among privacy watchdogs, and few companies have been bold enough to really embrace the potential. Add to that the lack of really compelling hardware solutions, and there has been a great deal of talk and little action. Google actually stands out as an early leader, with its Google Glass, a slim and lightweight pair of glasses with an AR overlay on one side. The screen’s size and resolution were limited, but it was a fascinating early look at what might be coming. The Glass Explorers edition sold for $1,500 in minimal quantities in 2013 but was quickly shut down amid outrage about the built-in video recorder.
Privacy concerns have not dwindled, yet almost everyone has a smartphone with high-quality cameras built-in, which presumably might normalize the potential of being recorded in public. Regardless of the concerns, it seems undeniable that the Metaverse will be coming soon, an overlay on the reality that provides additional information and context. It could prove to be indispensable if some rules and reason can be established early on. Google will absolutely have to be a part of this new reality. Its pervasiveness in maps and search are a natural fit, and its artificial intelligence prowess might be the best of all tech giants. What was perhaps lacking was a more modern approach to AR hardware and software, which was boosted in a hurry with the acquisition of Canadian company North, once backed by Amazon and including Alexa for voice commands. The New York Times interviewed Nikhil Balram, who helped oversee the development of virtual and augmented reality hardware at Google until November 2020, and spoke about the company’s work in this area.
Google Glass 2022?
While not explicitly stating as much, the implication is that Google might continue North’s work on Focals. These smart glasses took a fascinating and practical approach to AR, with a small display on one lens similar to Google Glass, along with a touch-sensitive ring for easy interaction without reaching up to the frames. Unfortunately, the company required in-person fitting for proper alignment and only made this available in a few areas but seemed to be off to a good start in 2019. Focals 2.0 was even teased to launch in 2020 when Google acquired the company.
Money was refunded to the original Focals owners, and services were shut down, with the project ongoing yet being developed internally. The only mention was a blog post from Google stating that it would continue to invest in hardware and an ‘ambient computing future.’ Meanwhile, Google Glass has continued with an Enterprise Edition (pictured above). Hopefully, Google retains the clear vision of the original North Focals and brings updated computer power and screen technology to simply move it further along its already interesting trajectory as true AR glasses that are comfortable, functional, and unobtrusive.