Apple files trademark on iWatch as wearable devices race heats up

There’s more evidence that Apple(s AAPL) is getting serious about building a smartwatch: In early June, the company filed for a trademark in Japan for “iWatch.” Bloomberg reports that the trademark was filed for “products including a handheld computer or watch device.”
The news of the filing comes several months after it was reported that Apple already had assembled a team of 100 designers, software and hardware engineers to work on its digital wristwatch with a “curved glass display.”
A smattering of earlier reports indicate that the iWatch may run iOS and have a pedometer and heart rate monitor, and the ability to make calls and check points on a map. But the big question is, when will this device arrive?
The patent filing doesn’t necessarily mean the launch is imminent. Apple probably grabbed the patent so it will be available when the launch is ready — which could be months from now. It also could have grabbed it so a competitor didn’t snag it first. After all, Apple is no stranger to serious issues with trademarks overseas.
While rumors of Apple looking into this category have circulated for a while, no really serious competitor has emerged with a category-defining device. But that’s likely to change pretty soon. Samsung is rumored to be building its own smartwatch, and just last week news hit that Google(s GOOG) is working on an Android smartwatch for possible release later this year.
In March, it was reported that Apple’s watch project was on track for public release by the end of 2013. But CEO Tim Cook appeared to dash that hope in the spring, when he said there would be no new product categories coming until 2014.
Apple may or may not be the first of its mobile peers to build a smartwatch. But the wearable devices category is forecast to be a $1.5 billion industry by next year, and Apple tends to gauge its success by how much of the profits in each category it can devour.