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North ending production of current Focals smart glasses to focus on Focals 2.0 – TechCrunch

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Smart glasses maker North announced today that it will be ending production of its first-generation Focals glasses, which it brought to market for consumers last year. The company says it will instead shift its focus to Focals 2.0, a next-generation version of the product, which it says will ship starting in 2020.

Focals are North’s first product since rebranding the company from Thalmic Labs and pivoting from building smart gesture control hardware to glasses with a built-in heads-up display and smartphone connectivity. CEO and founder Stephen Lake told me in a prior interview that the company realized in developing its Myo gesture control armband that it was actually more pressing to develop the next major shift in computing platform before tackling interface devices for said platforms, hence the switch.

Focals 2.0 will be “at a completely different level” and “the most advanced smart glasses ever made,” Lake said in a press release announcing the new generation device. In terms of how exactly it’ll improve on the original, North isn’t sharing much but it has said that its made the 2.0 version both lighter and “sleeker,” and that it’ll offer a much sharper, “10x improved” built-in display.

North began selling its Focals smart glasses via physical showrooms that it opened first in Brooklyn and Toronto. These, in addition to a number of pop-up showroom locations that toured across North America, provided in-person try-ons and fittings for the smart glasses, which must be tailor-fit for individual users in order to properly display content from their supported applications. More recently, North also added a Showroom app for iOS devices, that included custom sizing powered by more recent iPhone front-facing depth sensing camera hardware.

North’s first-generation Focals smart glasses.

To date, North hasn’t revealed any sales figures for its initial Focals device, but the company did reduce the price of the glasses form $999 to just under $600 (without prescription) relatively soon after launch. Their cost, combined with the requirement for an in-person fitting prior to purchase (until the introduction of the Showroom app) and certain gaps in the product feature set like an inability to support iMessage on iOS natively, all point to initial sales being relatively low volume, however.

To North’s credit, Focals are the first smart glasses hardware that manage to have a relatively inconspicuous look. Despite somewhat thicker than average arms on either side where the battery, projection and computing components are housed, Focals resemble thick acrylic plastic frames of the kind popularized by Warby Parker and other standard glasses makers.

With version 2.0, it sounds like Focals will be making even more progress in developing a design that hews closely to standard glasses. One of the issues also cited by some users with the first-generation product was a relatively fuzzy image produced by the built-in projector, which required specific calibration to remain in focus, and it sounds like they’re addressing that, too.

The Focals successor will still have an uphill battle when it comes to achieving mass appeal, however. It’s unlikely that cost will be significantly reduced, though any progress it can make on that front will definitely help. And it still either requires non-glasses wearers to opt for regularly donning specs, or for standard glasses wearers to be within the acceptable prescription range supported by the hardware, and to be willing to spend a bit more for connected glasses features.

The company says the reason it’s ending Focals 1.0 production is to focus on the 2.0 rollout, but it’s not a great sign that there will be a pause in between the two generations in terms of availability. Through its two iterations as a company, Thalmic Labs and now North have not had the best track record in terms of developing hardware that has been a success with potential customers – Focals 2.0, whenever they do arrive, will have a lot to prove in terms of iterating enough to drive significant demand.



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Microsoft trackers run afoul of DuckDuckGo, get added to blocklist

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Aurich Lawson

DuckDuckGo, the privacy-minded search company, says it will block trackers from Microsoft in its desktop web browser, following revelations in May that certain scripts from Bing and LinkedIn were getting a pass.

In a blog post, DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg says that he’s heard users’ concerns since security researcher Zach Edwards’ thread that “we didn’t meet their expectations around one of our browser’s web tracking protections.” Weinberg says that, over the next week, the company’s browser will add Microsoft to the list of third-party tracking scripts blocked by its mobile and desktop browsers, as well as extensions for other browsers.

“Previously, we were limited in how we could apply our 3rd-Party Tracker Loading Protection on Microsoft tracking scripts due to a policy requirement related to our use of Bing as a source for our private search results,” Weinberg writes. “We’re glad this is no longer the case. We have not had, and do not have, any similar limitation with any other company.”

There are a lot of pervasive, identifying things that load up on most modern webpages. At issue in DuckDuckGo’s apps was its default blocking of scripts from companies like Facebook and Google loading on third-party websites. DuckDuckGo, which uses Microsoft’s Bing as one of its sources for search results, had to allow some of Microsoft’s trackers to load “due to a policy requirement.” In a Reddit response at the time of the revelation, Weinberg noted that Microsoft’s trackers were still blocked in most ways, like utilizing third-party cookies for fingerprinting visitors.

There’s more to the delicate dance between DuckDuckGo and Microsoft than just trackers, however. Microsoft also provides ads that run on DuckDuckGo’s search results. To allow advertisers to see when someone has clicked an ad on DuckDuckGo and arrived at their page, the DuckDuckGo apps won’t block requests from bat.bing.com. Weinberg notes that you can avoid this by turning off ads in DuckDuckGo search entirely. The company is working on validating ads in ways that can be non-tracking, Weinberg writes, akin to similar efforts by Safari and Firefox.

Finally, DuckDuckGo aims to be more open about its tracker blocking. The company committed its tracker blocklist to a public GitHub repository yesterday and published a new help doc on its tracking protections.

It can look like a lot of work over two scripts, but then DuckDuckGo lives inside the tricky balance of trying to make its search product convenient and relevant while offering its users as much privacy as websites can stand before breaking. And the 15-year-old company from Paoli, Pennsylvania, can’t just leave Bing behind entirely. Weinberg noted in his May Reddit response that most of its traditional search results and images come from Bing. “Really only two companies (Google and Microsoft) have a high-quality global web link index” due to the billion-dollar cost, Weinberg wrote. Every company that wants to provide search to the world faces either a duopoly or a very long journey.

Microsoft, meanwhile, continues to expand its advertising markets, most recently to Netflix, and, potentially, into its own operating system. Its advertising revenue was $3 billion for the quarter ending June 30, an increase of 15 percent year over year but the lowest growth rate in more than a year.

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Sonic the Hedgehog doesn’t need easily legible legends on his mechanical keyboard

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Enlarge / Sonic the Hedgehog mechanical keyboard.

When you’re a beloved blue eulipotyphla with the speed of a race car, all the golden rings, a pal like Tails, and even a pair of hit feature films, you start feeling like you can do anything. That includes typing on a truncated mechanical keyboard without letters, numbers, or any other legends written on the top of the keycaps.

Higround, known for gaming gear, is releasing today a trio of 65 percent mechanical keyboards made in collaboration with Sega, as spotted by Nintendo Wire, as well as other Sega-focused gear, including keycaps and mousepads.

Dreamcast's <i>Sonic Adventure 2</i> mechanical keyboard.
Enlarge / Dreamcast’s Sonic Adventure 2 mechanical keyboard.

Pictures from the brand show a trio of keyboards coming to life with colorful details delivering nostalgic imagery anywhere from, depending on the keyboard, the loops and rings of the Green Hill Zone in 1991‘s Sonic the Hedgehog to the contrasting profiles of Sonic and Knuckles from 2001’s Sonic Adventure 2 to the rainbow-colored arrow keys mimicking console controller buttons in tribute to Sega’s last globally released console, the Dreamcast.

The PBT, dye-sublimated keycaps on the keyboards are 1.5 mm thick, according to Higround, and ditch informative legends on their topsides in favor of an artful appearance when viewing the keyboard from the top down. But from a typical seated position, you should be able to see legends side-printed on the front of the keycaps. You don’t have to be a touch typist to use the Sega keyboards, but if you’re not, they’ll be harder to use at first than the typical keyboard.

Sega Dreamcast mechanical keyboard.
Enlarge / Sega Dreamcast mechanical keyboard.

Sonic’s gotta go fast, so it’s fitting that the keyboards use Speed Silver linear mechanical switches from TTC. They’re specced for about 3.4 mm total travel, with a 1.08 mm actuation point and 45 grams of force to actuate (if you’re unsure of what that means, check out our mechanical keyboard guide). Those numbers make them a bit shorter to actuate and bottom out than the common Cherry MX Red switch (4mm / 2mm / 45gf); although, Higround could have gone shorter with low-profile mechanical switches to fit the speed theme even more.

The mechanical switches have Sonic-blue-like housing.

The mechanical switches have Sonic-blue-like housing.

If you’re looking for a speedy way to complete those spreadsheets, the Sega keyboards aren’t a winning fit since they lack a numpad.

Ultimately, you need a combination of Sega and linear typing fandom and the ability to work without a numpad (some touch-typing skills wouldn’t hurt either) in order for these keyboards to be something that can help you level up your productivity, rather than an interesting collector’s item.

But the keyboards aren’t as polarizing as they could be… at least they don’t make you type in Elvish.

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This 6-inch board turns a Raspberry Pi module into a DIY router

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Enlarge / Let your Pi do the work while the CM4 Router Board handles the connections.

If you’re intrigued by the prospect of building a DIY router, Seeed Studio has a board that’s just waiting to put a Raspberry Pi Computing Module 4 (CM4) to work. Assuming, of course, that you can find the Pi module.

Seeed’s CM4 Router Board adds two full-speed gigabit network ports, two USB 2.0 ports, a microSD slot, an HDMI out, a GPIO interface for Raspberry Pi HAT add-ons, and a 0.91-inch OLED display to your Pi CM4. Having the CM4 at the system’s core gives you 32 different options for RAM, storage, and wireless capabilities on your homebrew router. The Router Board comes with OpenWRT installed, but it could run Ubuntu, Raspberry OS, or any other Pi-friendly system.

Seeed notes that beyond DIY routers, the CM4 Router Board could also become a gateway, mini-NAS, wireless network bridge, or mini-server. You can buy a Pi CM4 with wireless capabilities, but you’ll likely need (or prefer) a separate Wi-Fi setup connected to your DIY router.

Why not just plug a USB-to-Ethernet adapter into the Pi you already have? Seeed says its board’s RTL8111E controller chip “offers better performance, lower CPU usage, and higher stability for a long time work [sic] compared with a USB network card.”

The CM4 Router Board should be available for around $55 soon at both Seeed and Mouser Electronics, though the latter cites an 11-week lead time beyond its initial stock.

Those hunting for a Raspberry Pi CM4 board might consider Ars commenter MightyPez’s advice to keep an eye on Pi stock monitor Rpilocator, which offers RSS feeds. You can even set up push notifications with Rpilocator’s official Python script.

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