A small group of Japanese tech-addicts lined up in Tokyo to become the first to buy the Apple Watch from select stores on Friday, but there was no sign of the frenzy that usually accompanies Apple Inc product rollouts.
So far, buyers can get the device from only a handful of upscale boutiques and department stores. They include The Corner in Berlin, Colette in Paris, Maxfield in Los Angeles and Dover Street Market in Tokyo and London. Apple courted the outlets to help present the watch as a fashion item rather than just another techie gizmo.
Paired with an iPhone, the watch allows users to check email, listen to music and make phone calls. It also tracks a person's health, for instance by monitoring heartbeats or tracking calories burned during a workout.
The gadget, which has a tiny screen, cannot be bought in Apple stores yet. For the past two weeks, the company has been directing people to order online instead, drastically curtailing the long lines of devotees who typically flock to iPhone launches.
At New York's Fifth Avenue Apple store, dozens of customers crowded around watch displays and demos. FBR Capital Markets senior analyst Daniel Ives polled customers at the store and said about 15% were there to either try or better understand the watch, which he called a "good early sign."
Several customers said they planned to buy the watch after trying it, while others said they had already preordered it but had yet to try it on.
"I wanted to check it out for the first time," said Steve Sosebee, a 49-year-old nonprofit chief executive who preordered the $349 Sport version. "It has a lot of functions that are useful, especially the fitness."
Yuichiro Masui, the first Apple Watch customer at a telecom shop in Tokyo's Omotesando area, poses with his new watch on April 24, 2015. (AFP PHOTO)
About 50 people lined up at electronic store Bic Camera in Tokyo's Ginza district while another 20 were at a shop of mobile carrier SoftBank Corp.
"I buy one or two Apple products every time they release something new," Chiu Long, a 40-year-old IT worker from Taiwan, told Reuters, waiting at Bic. "I like to run, so the heart rate reader is progress."
Reviewers say the smartwatch could make life easier for people on the move, but gave it poor marks for battery life and slow-loading apps.
In Berlin more than 100 people stood in line at designer boutique The Corner on Friday morning. First to walk out with an Apple Watch Sport was Alex Anikin from Russia, who waited in line overnight outside the store. "We came first at 11 yesterday, so (we have been waiting) 22 hours approximately," he told Reuters.
Technology lovers and investors keen to find out the watch's components were frustrated, with a tough resin coating protecting the core computing module from immediate scrutiny.
Gadget repair firm iFixit, which has successfully pried open other Apple products on their launch day, said the U.S. company also appeared to be promoting the watch's inner workings, complicating a detailed analysis of its origins from underlying parts suppliers.
The lack of lines at Apple stores will make it hard to judge popular demand for the watch, which comes in 38 variations. U.S. prices range from $349 for the Sport version to $10,000 and more for the gold Edition.
Prices are higher elsewhere, ranging from 399 euros to 18,000 euros ($432-$19,490) in Germany, and 299 pounds to 13,500 pounds ($452-$20,415) in Britain.