Strong turnout, backlogs, as shoppers get to try Apple Watch

New watch draws crowds to Apple stores.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (APRIL 10, 2015) (REUTERS) – Customers flocked to Apple Inc’s stores around the world on Friday (April 10) to get their first close-up look at the company’s smartwatch, while online orders were backlogged until June.

The Apple Watch, company chief Tim Cook’s first new major product and the company’s first foray into the personal luxury goods market, was available for preorder online and to try out in stores by appointment, but not to take home.

On April 24, the watch goes on sale officially online and through appointments in shops, including trendy fashion boutiques in Paris, London and Tokyo, part of Apple’s strategy of positioning the wearable computer as a must-have accessory.

Testing Apple’s mastery of consumer trends, the watch is an untried concept for the Cupertino, California-based company. It straddles a technology market accustomed to rapid obsolescence and luxury goods whose appeal lies in their enduring value.

Inside an Apple store in Manhattan, large crowds filtered through the store to see and touch the new Apple watch.

“I got to see the Apple Watch. I know exactly which one I want. I’m going to get the steel watch for sure,” said Nicole Coffiel.

But soon after online preorders opened on Friday, Apple’s website listed shipping times in June for some models of the watch and four to six weeks for others, raising questions about whether Apple underestimated demand for its newest product.

“I think it’s worth waiting for. I’ve been wearing my phone around my neck for the last eight years and I’m ready to be rid of it. It’s getting heavy. I think that everybody’s going to want one,” said Nancy Hardison.

Long wait times will likely stimulate more demand for the watch – which allows users to check email, listen to music and make phone calls when paired with an iPhone – with little risk of losing impatient customers, said JMP analyst Alex Gauna.

The Apple Watch sport starts at $349 (USD) while the standard version comes in at $549 in the United States. High-end “Edition” watches with 18-karat gold alloys are priced from $10,000 and go as high as $17,000.

Reviewers this week praised the watch, which also helps users monitor their health and exercise, as “beautiful” and “stylish” but gave it poor marks for relatively low battery life and slow-loading apps.

“I think it’s the allure of having something on your wrist that can do a lot different things to make your life a little bit easier. It might not mean that for other people. For me, I know that in having it integrated into the other devices that I use, it would be very helpful for a time standpoint for me,” said Leland Melvin, a former NASA astronaut.

Melvin added, “I think it will work for me. I’m an Apple loyalist. I have MacBook Pro, iPad, all the stuff. And I like that fact that it is integrated into the ecosystem of how I use the things that I use, the apps that I use. So it’s just part of who I am.”

Sales estimates for 2015 vary widely. Piper Jaffray predicts 8 million units and Global Securities Research forecasts 40 million. By comparison, Apple sold nearly 200 million iPhones last year.

Apple’s watch is widely expected to outsell those by Samsung, Sony Corp and Fitbit, which have attracted modest interest from consumers. It will likely account for 55 percent of global smartwatch shipments this year, according to Societe Generale.