I've been writing about Google's unique, expensive, controversial, futuristic and odd-but-interesting-looking wearable computer, Glass, a lot lately. (You want to read my Glass etiquette tips here. Do it.) Every time I publish a post aimed at Glass users, I consider the potential audience, which is relatively small, at least compared to the audience for, say, a post aimed at iPhone users.
But just how small is that audience? How many Glass units has Google sold to date? And how many people own Glass?
These are tough questions to answer, because Google simply isn't talking about Glass sales. Here's a response I got earlier this week from Google's Communications and Public Affairs Manager, Matthias Meyer:
"The point of the Explorer program is to get Glass into the hands of all sorts of people, see the inspirational and useful ways people are using the technology, and hear feedback on how we can make it even better before a consumer launch. We are not releasing any sales figures on Glass."
Last month, Google opened Glass sales to the U.S. public. Glass had previously been available only to a group of "Explorers," composed mostly of developers, media members and other geeks. Google also held a one-day public sale in April that ended almost as quickly as it began, when the company "almost ran out of inventory."
Reports suggest that Google sold some 10,000 Glass units in 2012. In the fall of 2013, Google launched a Glass referral program so current Explorers could each invite three friends. (I got my Glass from a colleague's referral; thanks @MrCippy.) Assuming that each and every invited "friend" accepted and purchased a device, and that's somewhat unlikely, we're up to about 40,000 official users by year-end 2013.
In February of this year, Google sent out more invites to its Explorer base, this time seemingly without a limit. If every Explorer went on to invite five friends (again, unlikely, I didn't invite anyone) and they all went on to purchase Glass, (probably even more unlikely) you have around 240,000 Explorers.
Google didn't say how many Glass-es it sold during the one-day sale in April (surprise), but it's doubtful the company sold more than a few thousands, and that's probably a generous estimate. In early May, Google set up shop at an exclusive PGA golf event in Florida, but it couldn't have sold any significant amount of Glass devices that day.
Again, this is just a guess but before Google listed Glass for public sale in the United States last month, it could have had somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000 Explorers. Taking the public release into account, it seems reasonable to say that fewer than 300,000 people currently own Glass. Frankly, 300,000 feels like too large a number to me, but because Google is staying tight-lipped, we don't know for sure.
A few more things to consider: As of this morning, Google's "Explorer Community" page on Google+ had just over 38,000 members, though anyone can join. On the final day of 2013, Business Intelligence, the research arm of BusinessInsider.com, suggested that at the start of Q2 2014, Google would have sold 894,189 Glass units. That number seems very (very) aggressive to me, and I wish I knew where the organization got its numbers. The same group also predicts that Glass sales will "climb sharply in the years after its official launch, to 21 million units in annual sales by year-end 2018." Make of that what you will.
It's also worth noting that at least a small percentage of people who bought Glass chose to return it.
While the total number of Glass users will remain unknown until Google decides to release sales numbers, it's clear that despite Glass's public availability, in Google's eyes, the product is still very much in development and it is holding off an official "consumer launch" until both the product, and the market for it, are more mature.