With the advent of Google Glass, smart glasses soon will join smart watches in the wearable computer market. Shipments of smart glasses could rise to as many as 6.6 million units in 2016, according to IHS, up from 50,000 in 2012. Although demand is projected to be robust for smart glasses, hardware manufacturers won’t benefit as much from the glasses as applications developers.
“The applications are far more critical than the hardware when it comes to the success of Google Glass,” said Theo Ahadome, senior analyst at IHS. “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 to the consumer, 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 is betting the house that developers will produce some compelling applications for Glass,” Ahadome said.
In fact, developers will be driving most of the 150 percent growth of smart glass shipments expected this year. Expansion will really begin to accelerate in 2014 with the initial public availability of Google Glass, as shipments growth powers growth of 250 percent, based on an optimistic forecast. Applications developers are among the early buyers of the pricey $1,500 Google Glass.
However, if developers fail to produce compelling software and uses for the devices, shipments could be significantly lower than the optimistic triple-digit growth rates being projected today.
“The true success of Glass will be when it can provide some information to users not apparent when viewing people, places or things,” Ahadome said. “This information may include live updates for travel, location reviews and recommendations, nutritional information, matching personal preferences, and previous encounters to aid decision making. The upside for smart glasses will arise when they become a powerful information platform. In many ways, this is exactly what Google already does via other mediums, and also why the upside scenario seems more likely.”
Under a more pessimistic scenario, IHS forecasts that only about 1 million smart glasses will be shipped through 2016.