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For years, the Apple iWatch has been a much-desired fantasy item. But with the rumors heating up, all eyes are on Cupertino to finally give the masses what they want this year. The big question is, which stories will pan out? The spiral UI? Custom build of iOS? Willow glass? Some sort of wrist-slap bracelet form factor?

It’s fun to visualize how some of those ideas could work. But thanks to these designers, journos and students, we don’t have to imagine them in our mind’s eye alone. These concept masters have brought high creativity to the unannounced device, so let’s indulge some of the eye candy that has been floating around. We purposely left out the hologram-based designs, not because we’re against the idea — au contraire! The thought makes us drool — but because there’s no way that will happen any time soon.

The concepts below range from add-on devices to fully independent gadgets, from this year and earlier. Which ones are your favorites?

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Created by Esben Oxholm/Yanko Design

The concept borrows from the iPhone 5 aesthetic. It features curved glass, home button below the display, matte black aluminum strap backed by rubber layer on the inside.

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Created by Antonio De Rosa/ADR Studio

ADR, creator of several iWatch concepts, puts forth the idea here of an edge-to-edge capacitive display, 10 MP camera, A6 processor, WiFi, Bluetooth, 32GB storage, FaceTime camera and widgets for RSS and weather. It’s fabricated from polycarbonate, aluminum, Kevlar and PK2, and pairs to user’s iPhone for calling and other communication features.

iWatch-concept3

Created by Nikolai Lamm

This one’s inspired by Ikepod watches, whose owner, Marc Newson, is friends with Jony Ive. The design based on Apple’s spiral navigation patent, casting the device as an add-on that works with the iPhone wirelessly.

iWatch-concept4

Created by Anders Kjellberg

Kjellberg’s design looks more like a traditional wristwatch, but somehow boasts 16GB storage, 8MP iSight and 1080p HD video camera, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi charging and syncing, gyro, accelerometer and proximity sensors, and built-in lithium-ion battery. This device has FaceTime, Retina display, App Store and iTunes support, Maps, iPod, Weather, Airplay and more.

iWatch-concept5

Created by Federico Ciccarese

Now here’s a totally different (creepy?) take that imagines the smart device riding on the back of the hand. Alone, the concept looks like a claw or a crustacean with legs emanating from the curved glass and aluminum body to grip the wrist and run between the fingers.

iWatch-concept6

Created by Federico Ciccarese

Also from Ciccarese is iSiri Smartwatch, a Gucci watch–like device that foregoes a touchscreen to rely on voice command via Siri. The main body is a Nano-sized gadget that can attach to a wristband or earbuds, and connects to the iPhone via Bluetooth.

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Created by Yrving Torrealba/Vene Studio

More curved-glass goodness: The mostly transparent gadget looks like a futuristic version of the iPod Nano–plus–watch strap trend. The concept is to make it work with the iPhone or iPad, and as a remote for Apple TV, with Siri voice control baked in.

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Created by The Guardian

Last month, The Guardian took what is known or rumored about the Apple wearable tech and came up with this design. On the outside, the rounded bracelet offers Willow glass on the 1.5-inch Retina Display. Inside, the Intel processor runs a custom build of iOS. It pairs with other iOS devices for notifications and alerts via Bluetooth 4.0, which helps optimize power consumption, but can run all the advanced smartphone features you’d expect from a modern mobile device.

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Created by ~itswithaKAY/DeviantArt

This design is a riff on the Nike Amp watch, but with some iOS features added to it, creating a familiar feeling hybrid watch. Not bad for a business student.

iWatch-concept10

Created by Steve Choryan

This basically looks like a compact iPhone made of curved glass and lightweight metal, but with a knocked-out band that’s sure to leave some funky tan lines. [Upon closer inspection, it looks like a fill-in design detail, not a die-cut strap.] It’s clearly intended as a standalone that runs independent of another iOS device.

iWatch-concept11

Created by Pavel Simeonov

This narrow device offers a boatload of goodness, including camera, Bluetooth 4.0, mic and speakers, Siri, wireless syncing and charging, accelerometer, gyroscope and pedometer. It also has a multi-touch 2.5-inch 16:9 curved IPS display and gestures — such as twisting your arm to check for weather or pinpoint your location. That’s already a lot to digest, but there’s even more: 4G. It’s the only one in this line-up that features LTE for super-fast connectivity. The smartwatch is also super-smart: Each component of the armband is a separate battery. The only question is, will the heat make the wrist a bit too toasty? We almost don’t care.

And here’s a bonus:

Digging all the way back to 2008, we found an old mock-up of a smart slap-bracelet from product design firm Chocolate. While it’s not specifically intended as an iWatch, the new revelation that Apple filed a patent for a slap-bracelet concept with a full-length flexible display makes this worth a second look. This multimedia gadget features e-paper on the entire surface, to keep the whole thing thin, while still delivering high-contrast visuals. And the energy efficiency is ridiculous — it’s powered by the user’s kinetic energy. (via Yanko Design)

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Could Apple take this idea and move it forward? What about the others? Tell us which smartwatch you’d stand in line for in the comments.