Apple applies for iWatch trademark in Japan

APPLE have applied to trademark the term "iWatch" in Japan, giving further credence to the rumours that the tech company plans to enter the market for wearable technology.

Registering a trademark is often an indication that a company wishes to launch the product - seeking to avoid any legal tussles after the public release. However, some organizations also like to hedge their bets or simply block off their opponents. Apple also registered the "iSlate" in 2009, but it was the iPad that launched in 2010.

According to reports from officials the name could cover a range of products - including computers, computer peripherals and watches.  This means - as Charles Arthur has noted - that there's a small chance that the name could refer to a TV-related product (also the subject of persistent rumours for Apple). 

Speaking at the D11 conference Apple CEO Tim Cook described wearables as "an area that's ripe for exploration. It's ripe for us to get excited about. Lots of companies will play in this space." At the same conference though Cook was consistently obstructive when quizzed on the idea of new products.

Although Apple's annual developer conference, WWDC 2013, did reveal some new additions to its hardware line-up, there were no new markets being explored.

Apple's previous successes with the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad have shown that the company can reinvigorate, if not create, whole markets, and many expect them to do the same with the smartwatch.

The renewed popularity of smartwatches begun in non-corporate environments, with the likes of the Pebble and the MetaWatch finding favour via Kickstarter. Now, established companies are moving in with Sony announcing the second edition of its SmartWatch for September this year, and with Google rumoured to be working on their own device.

Bloomberg is confident in Apple's ambitions, citing people "familiar with the company's plans" and saying: "Apple has a team of about 100 product designers working on a wristwatch-like device that may perform some of the tasks now handled by the iPhone and iPad."

For many commentators this is one of the central issues with smartwatches. Why buy one when it will only be replicating what your phone does on a smaller screen? Why would you want texts sent to your wrist when they're already being sent to your pockets? Division of labour between the watch and the phone will be crucial for success in this area.

There is wearable technology that has found its niche though - those devices dedicated to fitness. The likes of the Fitbit Flex and Nike's FuelBand have enjoyed success because they fulfil a single function efficiently - allowing the user to track their bodies in minute detail, from steps taken to sleep levels.

And Tim Cook can recognise how successful these wearables have been. Speaking at the same D11 conference he commented that Nike "did a great job" with the FuelBand and admitted that he wears one himself. With this in mind, making smartwatches work for Apple might mean combining phone functionality with FuelBand-like personal metrics.

However, not all are confident in coming iWatch. Benedict Evans at Enders Analysis said he thinks Autumn's launch is unlikely to be a 'smart' watch. He said: "In the past trademarks of this kind have not gone out in advance. You didn't see iPhone before the launch. It might just be a defensive thing to stop people trading off Apple's reputation. They've got a lot of patents that they haven't used."

Apple appears not to have trademarked iWatch in Europe, where the patented is held by Italian firm Probendi. The applications in Japan and Russia coincide with a new 'Designed by Apple' advertising campaign from the San Francisco-based company.

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