Smart glass market could hit 9.4M shipments by 2016

Shipments of smart glasses will start to soar in 2014, when Google Glass is due for release, research firm says

Worldwide shipments of computerized smart glasses are expected to hit nearly 10 million units by 2016, largely driven Google's Glass project, a research firm said.

That's an impressive number considering that Google's Glass eyewear, the major force in this market, isn't scheduled for official release until sometime in 2014.

IMS Research is predicting that 9.4 million units of smart glasses will ship by 2016, with 6.6 million pairs shipping in that year alone. This year, smart glasses shipments are expected to grow 150% to hit 124,000 units.

IMS Research is crediting this year's growth to developers' buying early versions of Glass. Google also is selling as many as 8,000 pairs to testers, called Explorers.

In 2014, when Glass is expected to hit the market, IMS expects smart glass shipments to jump 250%.

What will drive the success of Glass is less about the glasses themselves and more about what they can do.

"The applications are far more critical than the hardware when it comes to the success of Google Glass," said Theo Ahadome, a senior analyst at IHS, which is now part of IMS Research. "In fact, the hardware is much less relevant to the growth of Google Glass than for any other personal communications device in recent history. This is because the utility of Google Glass is not readily apparent, so everything will depend on the appeal of the apps. This is why the smart glass market makes sense for a software-oriented organization like Google, despite the company's limited previous success in developing hardware."

Google, he added, is betting that developers will produce compelling applications for Glass.

Ahadome noted that he expects developers to create Glass apps that will offer live updates for travelers, location reviews and recommendations, nutritional information and personal references.

Just this week, Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said Glass won't be on the market for about a year.

"We've just started distributing it to the first developers," Schmidt, told a BBC reporter. "It's fair to say there will be thousands in use over the months and there will be changes made based on feedback. But it's fair to say it's a year-ish away."

While Google is expected to be the dominant player in the smart glasses market, it's not expected to be the only one. China's biggest search engine, Baidu Inc., reportedly is working on its own computerized glasses. Sports sunglasses maker Oakley also was reported to be working on a smart glass model.

Glass computerized eye glasses are designed to take photos and video, send and receive email, and post comments and pictures on social media. Users control the glasses by voice, gesture and touch.

Last week, Google started distributing Glass to developers and its Explorers.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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