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Apple Watch to nab over half the smartwatch market, researcher predicts

Apple's upcoming wearable is expected to ship more than 15 million units worldwide this year, according to Strategy Analytics.

Apple Watch will lead the smartwatch market this year, according to Strategy Analytics. Apple

The highly anticipated Apple Watch will soon dominate the smartwatch market, says research firm Strategy Analytics.

Apple will ship 15.4 million Apple Watch units in 2015, giving the company 54.8 percent of the global smartwatch market. All other smartwatch makers combined will ship just 12.7 million units in 2015, according to the forecast. Strategy Analytics believes the Apple Watch will ignite the wearables space, saying total worldwide smartwatch shipments will jump 511 percent, from 4.6 million in 2014 to 28.1 million this year.

"The Apple Watch is the catalyst to ignite the global smartwatch market," Strategy Analytics Executive Director Neil Mawston said in a statement Thursday. "Apple's famous brand, loyal fan base, deep retail presence and extensive apps ecosystem will ensure healthy uptake for its Watch."

The Apple Watch is expected to be the main attraction at a special event that Apple is hosting on Monday. At the event, which will kick off at 10 a.m. PT, Apple is expected to announce final details about the device, including pricing across all models and the date it will go on sale. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently let slip that the Apple Watch will ship in April, and recent reports suggest the company is on track to hit his target date.

Tune in to CNET's Apple event live show and blog at 9 a.m. PT on March 9.

The Strategy Analytics study comes as the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, a major trade show for the smartphone industry, winds down. The event played host to a wide range of smartwatch announcements. Notable phone makers including Huawei and LG unveiled their own smartwatches that are set to hit store shelves this year. And some analysts, including Strategy Analytics, believe that despite a blockbuster arrival, Apple might have some stiff competition down the road.

"Apple's first-generation Watch is not yet perfect," Mawston said. "For example, Apple's Watch hardware design is arguably less attractive than some rival models such as the Huawei Watch , battery life may not be as long as many traditional wristwatch owners are used to, and Apple's premium pricing may be challenging for mass-market consumers. Apple will need to upgrade tangibly its second-generation Watch to stay ahead of competitors later this year."

Apple unveiled its wearable at an iPhone press event last September. Designed by Apple's senior vice president of design, Jony Ive, Apple Watch is part watch, part fitness and activity tracker. The entry-level Sport model will start at $349, and the high-end gold model could go for $4,999 or more, according to a prediction from Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.

Since its announcement, the Apple Watch has been the subject of debate over just how popular it will be in its first year on the market. Research firm CCS Insight predicted last month that the Apple Watch would become the "most successful smartwatch ever," reaching 20 million unit sales this year. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster in December predicted sales of 8 million for 2015. Wall Street has forecast sales of 12 million to 15 million. Apple has reportedly asked its suppliers to manufacture 5 million to 6 million watches for its first quarter of release.

Regardless of where shipments fall within that range, if anything is clear, it's that the Apple Watch could make or break the smartwatch market. Smartwatches have been available for years from companies like Pebble, Motorola and LG, but none has been able to take the market from a niche to the mainstream. The Apple Watch is likely the smartwatch industry's best hope of dramatically increasing shipments. The trouble is, if Apple's smartwatch fails to gain traction, the rest of the industry could go down with it.

"The current love affair affluent US consumers have with the iPhone guarantees a strong start for the Apple Watch in its home market," CCS Insight noted last month. "However, if sales of the Apple Watch fail to meet expectations, it could hurt the whole smartwatch market."

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

This story has been updated throughout the morning.