Apple’s Smartwatch: Timely Idea or Clocked Out?

Apple is a habitual party crasher, but can the company's history of arriving late and making a big splash in various gadget categories continue with the Apple Watch?

The technology company was a late entrant into many of its most prominent product categories: the iPod wasn't the first digital music player and the iPad wasn't the first tablet. But in most cases, the innovation the company infused into its devices ignited previously dormant markets -- and Apple products became "must haves."

Smartwatches have been around for a few years, but makers such as Samsung and Sony have failed to make them a runaway hit.

Apple's stated entry into the smartwatch arena this week with a gadget that won't go on sale until early 2015 raises questions: Can the company work its magic as it has in the past and convince people that they really need a smartwatch -- or will this time be different?

Experts say Apple is likely to stimulate interest in smartwatches, but they contend that the company must overcome a few hitches before its device can succeed.

Wearable devices is a small but growing area that technology companies are hoping to capitalize on as the smartphone and tablet usage grows. Citi Investment Research estimates the market for smartwatches will be $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion this year and could grow to $10 billion by 2018.

But no company has cracked the formula for a mass-market success. The entire "wearables" category includes sport fitness bands, watches and other apparel -- everything from Fitbit's $99 Flex fitness tracker and Nike's $99 Fuelband fitness monitors to Samsung's $199 Galaxy Gear smart watch. Experts say the Apple Watch's real test will come when developers begin to develop apps for the gadget, which is Apple's first brand-new product introduction in four years.

"What separates Apple from the others is...

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