Is the iWatch Apple’s Next Big Thing?

iwatchWill Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) finally unveil its long-rumored iWatch device next year? A new report from research firm Canalys predicts that smartwatch shipments will top five million in 2014. Canalys estimates that over 500,000 smartwatches will ship this year, compared with approximately 330,000 devices shipped last year.

Currently, the smartwatch market is being led by Sony (NYSE:SNE), with its SmartWatch 2 device, and the Kickstarter-funded company Pebble. However, the market is expected to see rapid growth next year as new devices from Apple, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Samsung (SSNLF.PK) enter the market.

Rumors of Apple’s so-called “iWatch” development have been around since last December, when a Chinese supply chain source suggested that the Cupertino-based company was exploring the development of a smartwatch. More recently, insider sources via the Financial Times reported Apple has “aggressively” started hiring new employees to help it with “hard engineering problems” related to the device’s development.