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Sight unseen, Apple's competitors expect 'iWatch' to help establish wearable computing market

Apple's role as the top trendsetter in technology is so well established that even rival companies Samsung and LG are openly admitting they hope the "iWatch," whatever it actually is, will help expand the market for wearable devices beyond niche status.

With big expectations for the wearable computing market, numerous major players have unveiled their own new devices this week at the IFA trade show in Berlin. Perhaps most prominent are LG and Samsung, which both announced new smartwatches, ahead of Apple's anticipated "iWatch" reveal next Tuesday.

And though Samsung and LG intend to compete with Apple's rumored wearable device, both companies admitted to Reuters that Apple's presence would help legitimize what remains a nascent market.

"This is what we wanted," said Samsung European CEO Sunny Lee, when asked about Apple's anticipated "iWatch" reveal.

And Sung-jin Lee, director of LG Electronics' watch product planning team, went as far as to say that an Apple wearable device would "expand the market."

Buzz for Apple's "iWatch" recalls the hype just before the last two times the company entered new markets with a splash: the iPhone and iPad. Prior to the unveiling of the first iPhone in early 2007, many envisioned a handset with an iPod classic-style click wheel— a prediction that in hindsight was terribly misguided, even though Apple did experiment with such a design behind the scenes.

And before the iPad was showcased to the public for the first time in 2010, observers had expectations of a device costing over $1,000 and running some version of its Mac OS X operating system. Fan mockups of a mythical Apple tablet even included features like an optical disc drive.

Ahead of Apple's Sept. 9 media event, no components or even concrete details about the design of the so-called "iWatch" have leaked. Its appearance appears to be as much of a mystery to fans —and competitors— as the iPhone and iPad were before they were revealed.

This week, a pair of reports from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times both claimed that the "iWatch" will sport a flexible OLED display that would allow the wearable device to take on a unique, curved form factor not possible with a flat LCD display. It's also expected that it will come in two sizes for men and women.

Other reports have claimed the "iWatch" will feature wireless charging, and that the display will be protected by scratch-resistant sapphire. It's also rumored to feature near-field communications technology for wireless payment services, and to include advanced sensors for tracking health and fitness related data, including heart rate.

Though little is known about the "iWatch," expectations are high. Observers believe Apple's entrance into the emerging wearable devices space will essentially define the market, much like the iPhone and iPad did for their respective product categories.

If Apple does manage to deliver the unexpected next Tuesday, it would be no surprise to see competitors such as Samsung and LG scrambling back to the drawing board, rethinking their smartwatch strategies. Because if history is indication, Apple isn't looking to grow a nascent market— it plans to define it.