On­line ex­cite­ment but no lines for Ap­ple Watch de­but


An on­line rush re­placed the tra­di­tional overnight queues out­side Ap­ple stores Fri­day as the iconic tech com­pany be­gan tak­ing or­ders and let­ting shop­pers get their hands on its much-vaunted smart­watch for the first time.

Ea­ger cus­tomers placed on­line or­ders for the Ap­ple Watch as soon as Ap­ple’s web­site be­gan ac­cept­ing them, shortly af­ter mid­night Pa­cific Time. Within half an hour, the com­pany ap­peared to sell out the ini­tial batch of watches that were avail­able for the first of­fi­cial day of ship­ping on April 24. By mid­morn­ing, Ap­ple’s web­site was show­ing the ear­li­est ship­ping date for many watch mod­els would be in June or later.

De­mand was dif­fi­cult to gauge, since Ap­ple hasn’t said how many watches were avail­able for ship­ping in the first wave on April 24. And in con­trast with ear­lier re­leases of new Ap­ple prod­ucts, there were no big lines of shop­pers wait­ing all night out­side the com­pany’s re­tail stores.

That’s be­cause Ap­ple en­cour­aged cus­tomers to make ap­point­ments for a 15-minute op­por­tu­nity to try on dif­fer­ent mod­els — which are priced start­ing at US$349 and go up to US$17,000 for a luxury edi­tion — while spe­cially trained em­ploy­ees ex­plained their fea­tures. Ap­ple is only ac­cept­ing or­ders on­line, for now.

But the de­but still came with some of the an­tic­i­pa­tion and mar­ket­ing siz­zle for which Ap­ple Inc. is fa­mous.

Ap­ple re­tail staffers in New York, At­lanta and other cities clapped and cheered as the first cus­tomers streamed through their stores’ sig­na­ture glass doors just be­fore 10 a.m. Ea­ger shop­pers also ex­am­ined the watch at shops in Lon­don, Shang­hai and Tokyo.

Stu­dent Vic­tor Le­ung was grin­ning from ear to ear af­ter fin­ish­ing his watch ap­point­ment and plac­ing his or­der for a lower-priced sport model at the Ap­ple store on New York’s 5th Av­enue. He said he’d been wait­ing ea­gerly for the op­por­tu­nity to buy one.

“It’s awe­some,” Le­ung said. “You get texts on your watch, make phone calls.” While he has tried other smart­watches, he thinks “Ap­ple is dif­fer­ent.”

De­spite Le­ung’s en­thu­si­asm, an­a­lysts said Ap­ple may have good rea­sons to sell the watch through pre­orders and ap­point­ments. On­line order­ing should help Ap­ple man­age its in­ven­tory and man­u­fac­tur­ing. The try-on vis­its should help en­sure that early buy­ers know what to ex­pect and how to use the watch, said Carolina Mi­lanesi, a tech an­a­lyst at Kan­tar World­panel. She said that could build pos­i­tive “word of mouth” rec­om­men­da­tions. And some an­a­lysts said the lag time in ship­ping may help build an­tic­i­pa­tion while the com­pany works to con­vince other cus­tomers — those who aren’t early tech adopters — why they should want this new cat­e­gory of gad­get.

“Our view is it’s go­ing to take time for the con­sumer to adopt wear­able tech­nol­ogy,” said An­gelo Zino, an­a­lyst at S&P Cap­i­tal IQ.

“We’re very pos­i­tive on the longterm trends for wear­ables and we think Ap­ple is go­ing to be a clear leader in the cat­e­gory,” Zino said this week. But he added, “We think ini­tial sales are go­ing to be be­low ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Ap­ple, which is based in Cu­per­tino, Cal­i­for­nia, hasn’t of­fered any es­ti­mates, but some an­a­lysts have pre­dicted the com­pany could sell 10 mil­lion to 20 mil­lion watches this year. By com­par­i­son, it sold more than 10 mil­lion of its new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus smartphones in the first week­end they were avail­able last Septem­ber, and a record to­tal of 74.5 mil­lion iPhones in the fourth quar­ter last year.

Some shop­pers needed no con­vinc­ing on Fri­day. Jack We­ber, a re­tired Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia pro­fes­sor, said he woke up at 3 a.m. to or­der a US$1,000 stain­less steel Ap­ple Watch on­line. He and his wife, Carol, were first in line for a 9 a.m. ap­point­ment to see the watches at a New York Ap­ple store.

Carol We­ber t ried on a US$15,000, 18-karat gold model that Jack thought would be nice to buy for their up­com­ing 50th an­niver­sary. Carol also liked the steel, though, since it would go with her white gold wed­ding ring. She said she hasn’t de­cided which to get yet, but is lean­ing to­ward both.


(Above) An Ap­ple em­ployee, left, laughs next to a cus­tomer try­ing on Ap­ple’s new watch, in San Fran­cisco on Fri­day, April 10. (Right) A cus­tomer looks at a line of Ap­ple’s new watches dis­played at a store in San Fran­cisco on Fri­day.

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