Apple has applied for a trademark for "iWatch" in Japan, a patent official said today.
This shows that the iPhone maker may be moving ahead with plans for a watch-like device as gadget makers turn their attention to wearable computers.
The trademark application, submitted on June 3 and released on the Japan Patent Office website on June 27, would cover computers, computer peripherals and wristwatches, the official said.
Speculation has mounted that Apple is preparing to launch an iWatch.
Chief executive Tim Cook told a gathering of tech and media executives a month ago that wearable products were ripe for exploration, but added he was sceptical.
"There's nothing that's going to convince a kid who has never worn glasses or a band or a watch to wear one, or at least I haven't seen it," Cook said.
Wearable devices are considered a potential area for hit products as smartphones such as the iPhone and Samsung Electronics's Galaxy series are losing their ability to impress consumers and investors.
Samsung, which has leapfrogged Apple as the world's leading smartphone maker, is also developing a wearable device similar to a wristwatch, a source with knowledge of the matter has said.
The New York Times reported in February that Apple was experimenting with the design of a device similar to a wristwatch that would operate on the same iOS platform as its iPhone and iPad and would be made with curved glass.
Nearly half of smartphones sold in Europe now Samsungs
New research has found that nearly half of all smartphones sold in Europe during the three months to the end of May were made by Samsung.
Because Samsung uses the Android operating system, the growth means Android's share of the market in the five main European markets of the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, has risen to more than 70% - a year on year increase of almost 10%.
Apple's iOS has 17.8% of the market in these countries, followed by Windows.
According to Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, growth of Android in Europe has, however, not been mirrored in the US, where the operating system's use has only risen by 0.1% in the past year.
It does remain the leading operating system in the US though, at 52% market share, followed by iOS at 41.9% and Windows at 4.6%.
During the period the research looked at, iOS usage grew by 3.5% and Windows 0.9%. The report's authors say Apple's expanded distribution agreement with T-Mobile in the US is the reason for the growth in iOS and they expect the trend to continue.
Meanwhile in the UK, Sony has recorded a resurgence, which has the potential to eat into Samsung's market share.
Sony is now the fourth largest handset manufacturer in that country, driven by demand for the flagship Xperia Z.
According to the Kantar research, in developing markets like Mexico, Windows Phone is starting to grow market share, with entry level smartphones like the Nokia Lumia 505 selling well.