Wearable companies are anxiously awaiting the launch of the Apple Watch, but not for the reasons you might think.
While it might be assumed that companies like Fitbit, Misfit Wearables, Withings and Fitbug are nervous about competing with the Apple Watch, they are actually betting that the new device will spark more consumer interest in the wearable space and give a big boost to their own business.
"I think it's a great thing because wearables—health and tracking fitness in particular—are one of the fastest-growing categories in technology, but it's still a pretty new concept for people. So anything that helps people learn more about health and fitness tracking, I think that is great for the industry," said James Park, co-founder and chief executive officer of Fitbit.
Apple is known for being late to launch new product categories. While its iPod, iPhone and iPad all dominated their given markets after launch, other companies were rolling out devices in each category before the tech giant.
There were MP3 players before the iPod, there were smartphones before the iPhone and there were tablet computers before the iPad. But when Apple enters a new market, it legitimizes it, said J.P. Gownder, a technology analyst at Forrester Research.
"I strongly believe the release of the Apple Watch is going to lift all boats in the wearable industry," Gownder said.
"Right now the wearables market is incredibly vibrant with lots of start-ups and great ideas, but a lot of people do not understand wearables and what Apple is going to do with the Apple Watch is create both education and demand for the ideas of wearable computing. You need a big powerful vendor to come in and educate the market."
In the same way Apple's iPad showed consumers how tablets could be useful, the Apple Watch will show people how wearables can be beneficial, Gownder said. And that's good news for other wearable players.
"If Apple says wearing technology is cool, then people will say 'maybe I should do it,'" said Sonny Vu, CEO of Misfit Wearables, which makes activity tracking smartbands.
"I'm totally going to be lining up to get an Apple Watch," Vu added.
But the Apple Watch also may be beneficial to other wearable companies because it creates a new platform for their software.
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San Francisco-based Misfit Wearables has partnered with several smartwatch makers, including Pebble, to actually include its app in those smart devices.
Vu said that if people are going to buy a smartwatch, they are not going to also buy a wearable fitness tracker, so it makes sense to include its activity tracking software on as many smartwatches as possible, including the Apple Watch.
"I won't say further, but watch out for the Apple Watch launch and see if you see anything interesting," Vu said.
"Our view is have at it smartwatches, whichever ones come out we are going to want to integrate with them. Because for us, we make some money on our hardware. But that's not what is going to get the venture returns that we signed up for. It's the data and the analytics and the services that we can sell from that."
Paul Landau, founder and CEO of U.K.-based wearable company Fitbug, said that his company is also working to integrate some of its software in other companies' hardware in order to make money from the data. Specifically, Fitbug created a digital coach service called Kiqplan that helps people reach their fitness goals.
While Fitbug sells its own wearable devices, it opened up its Kiqplan platform about a year ago so that it works with devices that have been traditional competitors, including Jawbone, Samsung, Withings and Misfit Wearables.
"Essentially we are moving to the next chapter of wearables. So we are really excited about Apple Watch coming out. I think if it gets the traction we think it will get, it will give a really exciting boost to the sector as a whole. But we will find out on April 1," Landau said.
"It will bring more people into the category and then it is our job to make that hardware even more useful for people by putting that data to work and helping them achieve their goals."
Wearable companies also see a big opportunity to cash in where the Apple Watch might fall short.
For example, not everyone will want a smartwatch that looks like a computer on their wrist, said Cédric Hutchings, CEO of Withings, the company behind the Activité smartwatch, which looks like a normal analog watch.
Hutchings said that while Withings will likely get a boost from the heightened attention Apple will bring to the space, his company will also have an advantage because Withings smartwatches look "normal" and do not require charging because the batteries last up to eight months.
A lower price may also give some wearable companies an edge. The Apple Watch is expected to start at about $350 and according to some analysts the most expensive model could cost upward of $5,000.
"For any wearable maker to say they are not concerned Apple is going to eat their lunch would be disingenuous," Vu said. "That said I do believe there is a big difference between those people who would pay $400 for a wearable, which is about what Apple's is going to cost, versus $50, which is what ours costs. I think those are very different segments."