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Apple Watch’s Path to Launch

Apple is currently finishing up work on software for the Apple Watch, which may be available in the U.S. by the end of March, according to Seeking Alpha.

Citing reports from 9to5 Mac, the investment site noted that Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts told Apple Store employees in an internal video message that the Watch would arrive after the Chinese New Year (Feb. 19) “in the spring.”

But sources close to the wearable’s development said Apple is planning an extensive testing program to make Apple Store employees familiar with the Watch. Representatives from each U.S. Apple Store in the United States will reportedly be sent to training sessions in either Austin, Tex., or Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., between Feb. 9-16. Those employees will then train their fellow employees in their own stores.

Despite Ahrendts’ “in the spring” comment, based on that timetable there’s no indication that Apple couldn’t roll out the Apple Watch as early as late February.

However, 9to5 Mac also reported that Apple has also been working to improve the Watch’s inductive charging mechanism and battery performance. That sparked criticism after Apple CEO Tim Cook said in October that “we think you’re going to end up charging [Apple Watch] daily. Overnight, that’s what we think.”

Although the Apple Watch hasn’t even emerged in stores yet, underdog smartwatch makers are already threatening to kill Apple’s wearable technology.

According to reports, lesser-known smartwatch makers are taking advantage of technology that allows wearers to make purchases with the watch, even if they don’t have their phone nearby. This differs from the Apple Watch, set to launch sometime this year, but which needs to communicate with an iPhone to complete mobile payments.

Smaller rivals like LAKS are looking to swoop in and take advantage of Apple Watch shortcomings. LAKS uses its payment program Watch2Pay, in partnership with MasterCard, with its wearable technology, along with its near field communications chip. NFC-enabled POS terminals recognize that chip and then deduct the sale price from the user’s MasterCard account.

The LAKS watch is currently only available in Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria and Serbia, but reports say the company is seeking out new partners in the U.S.

While Apple Watch has the NFC technology needed to complete a transaction without also communicating with an iPhone, it’s unclear whether Apple will introduce a phone-less feature with the wearable; sources previously told reporters that Apple will offer phone-free mobile payments services on the Apple Watch within a year.

Smartwatches, analysts predict, are only the first step in wearable technology, and 2015 could be the year such wearables take off. First, however, innovators must tackle obstacles unique to the technology, including producing items that consumers will actually wear. Still, several high-profile executives across the globe told PYMNTS that this year will see a boost in the mainstream adoption of wearable technology.

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