Hear something ticking?
According to a news report Monday, patent officials in Japan have confirmed that the Cupertino tech giant has applied for a trademark for "iWatch."
Apple did not immediately comment on the report. But the development is the most tangible sign to date that the iPhone maker may be moving ahead with plans for a watchlike device, just as rival Samsung prepares to release its own smartwatch and other makers enjoy a positive response from consumers to tech devices you can wear.
"Apple doesn't like to take a leadership position, but when they see a product that's caught the consumer's attention, they really take notice," said analyst Tim Bajarin with Creative Strategies. He points to the popular Pebble smartwatch, which was born in a Kickstarter campaign that raised $10 million in the first month. "With Pebble doing so well, even with its limited audience, it wouldn't surprise me if Apple turns out to be the one who does the smartwatch in a huge way. With this filing, its seems they're absolutely moving toward something, because they don't do these things indiscriminately."
The application for the iWatch trademark, which was submitted June 3 and released on the Japan Patent Office website June 27, would cover computers, computer peripherals and wristwatches, the patent official told Bloomberg. He said it was unknown how long the application process would require.
Bloomberg reported that "two people familiar with the company's plans" said Apple has deployed a team of about 100 product designers to work on a wristwatchlike device that would most likely connect wirelessly with the iPhone and iPad and take over some of the tasks those devices now do for consumers. The $150 Pebble, for example, lets its 85,000 users receive notifications on incoming texts, calendar alerts, as well as Facebook messages and tweets.
And Sony's year-old SmartWatch, which wirelessly connects to smartphones using Google's (GOOG) Android operating system, allows users to take calls and reply to emails. But as wearable technology becomes more sophisticated, the opportunities for Apple are practically endless, assuming it can persuade users to start wearing a watch.
Rumors have been swirling for months that Apple had an iWatch in the works, and CEO Tim Cook has said publicly that wearable products were ripe for exploration. Still, he cautioned, "There's nothing that's going to convince a kid who has never worn glasses or a band or a watch to wear one, or at least I haven't seen it."
Analyst Avi Greengart with Current Analysis said that to be successful Apple must provide just the right amount of functions in a smartphone to lure consumers but not overwhelm them.
"I think we're at a tipping point and in the next few years we'll see a huge number of these devices coming on line," he said. "But the challenge for Apple is to figure out the ideal feature set, so that there's just enough there to make people say, 'OK, I'll buy that.'"
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689; follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc.