An Apple Inc. logo hangs above the entrance at the Fifth Avenue store in New York, U.S., on Friday, March 11, 2011. (Jin LKee/BLOOMBERG)

Apple’s said to be testing a curved glass watch that will work with users’ smartphones — the main appeal of which seems to be to make everyone feel like a spy.

Or a hard-boiled detective. Reports about the watch in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have already sparked a round of Dick Tracy nostalgia among the tech media, but specifics about the device are still sketchy.

Wearable devices are expected to become a growing trend in the coming year, with fitness-focused gadgets already gaining traction in the general consumer market. Google’s much-hyped Google Glass project has already laid some groundwork to make the idea of a wearable device much more mainstream. If Apple jumped into the mix — particularly with a watch-like device rather than Google’s odd-looking glasses — it could solidify demand for wearable tech.

The Journal report said Apple is already in discussion with manufacturing partner Hon Hai Industries; the Times reports that the watch will work on Apple’s iOS operating system. Both reports cite unnamed sources who aren’t free to speak about products in development, and have no details on when the watch may be released.

The idea of a wearable Apple device is certainly not a new one. The iPod Nano has been used as a watch for years; Apple even released more than a dozen watch faces for the music player. But the iPod doesn’t have smartphone or smartphone integration capabilities. So far, Apple has ceded that territory to competitors such as Sony, which has a watch that lets you look at text and other messages, or Pebble, which has caller ID and other features. But with Siri and iOS integration, it seems Apple could easily step into the space and offer an easy, compelling device that fits a wide range of consumer needs.

Apart from granting folks the ability to speak into their wrists, however, a full-featured Apple ‘iWatch’ has the potential to give the company a stronger position in the worlds of mapping and mobile payments.

With a device on the wrist rather than simply in hand, users will have faster-than-ever access to payment and coupon information through apps such as Apple’s own Passbook. Deploying Apple Maps on users wrists, too, could help the company crowdsource walking routes and driving directions much more quickly.

Some of the most elaborate speculation comes from Bruce Tognazzini, a former Apple user interface designer, who published his thoughts on an Apple watch last week. Tognazzini laid out several features he thinks Apple could build into a watch, from features that will keep you from leaving your iPhone somewhere to silent, gesture-based messaging systems. And, of course, he believes the wristwatch could become a control portal for other devices such as the smartphone or the television.

“The iWatch will fill a gaping hole in the Apple ecosystem,” Tognazzini wrote. “It will facilitate and coordinate not only the activities of all the other computers and devices we use, but a wide array of devices to come.”

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