Google is starting to expand production of its experimental wearable technology, Glass, releasing tens of thousands more units in the coming months.
According to sources familiar with Google's plans, it is planning a "substantial" increase of Glass's manufacturing volumes in the run-up to Christmas. Until now, little more than 10,000 of the Glass "Explorer Edition" products have been distributed to competition winners, developers and other early adopters.
Google has said that it will not put Glass on sale to the general public until next year but, in a manner that one source likened to its gradual rollout of Gmail, existing owners will be able to invite a limited number of friends to buy the device.
The futuristic gadget shows updates from a tethered smartphone on a small screen just above the wearer's eye and can be used to take photographs and videos. It is controlled by voice commands, beginning with the phrase "OK Glass".
Google has championed a variety of applications for the device, from filming active sports and cookery videos to teaching aids and even a fashion accessory in a recent issue of Vogue magazine. Recent updates have brought new functions such as navigation directions, and developers from social networks to media organisations have created apps for Glass's small screen.
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However, while Glass has become a familiar sight at technology conferences in Silicon Valley, it is yet to win over the general public amid concerns ranging from personal privacy to social etiquette.
Part of the goal of the slow and steady expansion is to help people become more familiar with Glass ahead of a full rollout, which is expected in mid to late 2014, sources say.
Glass was first unveiled to the public a year ago at the Google I/O developer event, where attendees could order a device costing $1,500. Developers received their first units earlier this year.
A spokesman for Google X, the experimental lab which is developing Glass alongside the self-driving car and other innovations, declined to comment.
In July, Google said in an online posting that it was "starting to test out other ways of expanding the program so that additional Explorers can join". Earlier in the summer, a number of academic researchers were given the opportunity to try the devices. This autumn, Google began a roadshow across American cities, starting in Durham, North Carolina, to let members of the public try the technology.
The expansion of Glass comes as a range of other electronics companies are exploring their own wearable technologies. Samsung, which released a smart watch a few weeks ago, may be working on smart glasses, according to designs revealed in patent filings, while Apple is also working on an iWatch, sources say.
—By Tim Bradshaw, Financial Times