Who's zooming who? Will Apple follow in Samsung's "footsteps" and release a smartwatch of its own? Or did Apple lead Samsung down the garden path...?

Earlier this year it appeared Apple was destined to launch an iWatch. Headlines were coming out at a furious rate, all of them predicting what an Apple smartwatch would look like, what it would be called, and how it would work.

Then, nothing happened.

Apple did not release a smartwatch.

To be technically accurate, though, the 2010 iPod Nano was a smartwatch; with no less than 16 clockface options,  a music player and Nike fitness option. The Nano that Apple currently sells is no longer watch-sized. This suggests that either the previous design was not popular, or that buyers wanted larger displays, or, possibly, both. If it was a hot seller, you could bet that Apple would have doubled down on the idea. But it didn’t.

Meanwhile, a few weeks back Samsung did release a smartwatch.

Called the Galaxy Gear, the wrist-friendly device is almost exactly what everyone had been guessing Apple would launch. The gear communicates with Samsung phones and tablets, it has a camera, can run a handful of apps. Still, it didn’t take long for the doomsayers to weigh in (3 Reasons Why I won’t buy a Samsung Gear smart watch, Samsung Galaxy Gear: The crazy concepts vs sober reality, and Gimmick or Not?).

Turns out, while everyone likes to talk about a smartwatch, no one actually likes to buy one.

What if the scuttlebutt around an Apple iWatch is tech’s greatest head fake ever?

Not that Apple has officially come out and said they were working on one. This is a crafty, ultra competitive company–so don’t believe for a second they’re beyond priming the blogosphere with leaks, rumors.

If true, arch-nemesis Samsung took the bait. They put hundreds of engineers onto the Gear project, and poured a bunch more into marketing the thing (with abysmal results so far).

Now it seems the Internet has moved on. Yes, there’s still some talk of an Apple iWatch. But according to Google Search trends, at least, the conversation seems to have faded:

Apple iWatch
Talk of an Apple iWatch reached a fever pitch in March, before collapsing. Though headlines persist, most are more interested in the iPad 5.

Most of the buzz now is centered on the upcoming iPad 5.

There are legitimate reasons to believe that Apple will, against my incredible intuition, release a wrist-based device.

WSJ/AllThingsD, a credible tech source that has a track record of accurate prognostications, have said they’ve talked to inside sources that know a small team is working on one.

Further evidence: Apple has reportedly hired the lead designer of the Nike FuelBand.

Then there’s the whole wearable computing trend. Everyone is jumping in, or planning to jump in. 2014 is shaping up to be the year when we finally see a wave of products featuring sensors (like Nike T-shirts), wearable technology (Google Glass, smart watches), and companions to our now “traditional” smartphones and tablets.

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Let’s not forget that Apple is not afraid to try again after facing massive failure. The Newton beget the iPad. So, it’s not impossible to believe that the iPod Nano could lead way to a successful iteration.

Still, the market for smart watches appears to be a niche. I’m not convinced Apple and the board are too excited about niche products. A $400 billion business needs big, high growth ideas to continue to succeed. The iPhone 5C, a low-cost phone for emerging markets where iPhone penetration is low, is a perfect example of that thinking.

But an iWatch?

I’m skeptical we’ll ever see one.

Apple, though, is just happy its competitors are looking in the wrong direction, even if for just half a second.