No queues please: Apple Watch gets a low-key debut

Launch day for the new Apple smartwatch is a quiet affair.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director on

Apple Watch, in pictures

The Apple Watch (as seen in the gallery above) officially goes on sale today, but don't expect to see the traditional queues around the block at the nearest Apple Store.

For Apple, well known for its high profile and often rather self-congratulatory launch days where early buyers are applauded by staff as they leave the store with their newly-acquired gadgets, the Watch's debut seems an odd one for such an important new device.

You won't be able to walk into the Apple Store, buy a Watch and walk out with it until possibly June. As such, when I visited the Apple Store on London's Regent Street this morning, there were no queues and it was pretty much business as usual - apart from a couple of journalists interviewing other journalists.

That was because the action was somewhere else. Rather unusually, the only place in London you could buy the Apple Watch to take away with you on launch day was an upmarket Mayfair boutique called Dover Street Market, and only then if you'd made an appointment.

Perhaps fearing the descent of the Apple fanbois, the fancy retailer's website had already warned: "Please note that appointments cannot be made at the store and we kindly ask you not to queue."

That didn't stop a few fans from trying: a queue of about 20 people had appeared outside the store by the time I arrived, hoping to bag an appointment if anyone cancelled. Given the appointments had to be made by phone, it wasn't entirely clear why they were bothering to wait there anyway.

Perhaps this slowly dawned on them too: after about 15 minutes, it became clear that there were no more appointments left for the day, and the queue melted away - some people relaxed, some grumbling.

It's hardly the blockbuster launch that many expected. Apple says the low-key approach is down to a limited initial supply of the Apple Watch, and the wide range of options available - in terms of straps and finishes - that make the Watch a more complicated sort of sale, with customers offered a 'personal setup' session to customise and pair their Apple Watch with their iPhone.

Equally, the Apple Watch is also another step away from the often nerd-infested world of tech and into the world of fashion: perhaps lines of Apple obsessives and overnight campers is not the best way to sell the sort of £13,500, 18-carat rose gold smartwatch that Beyonce was spotted rocking recently.

It's a change in strategy that's only become clear in the last few weeks thanks to a leaked memo from Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts.

Consequently, it could be late May or even June before you can buy the watch just by walking into a store. For the last two weeks the device has been available to try on at Apple's retail stores in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, the UK, and the US. Even more confusingly, even though the official debut is today, the watch has also been available to order online since April 10, so some lucky buyers should be getting their devices today.

For those hoping to snap up a Watch online today, however, there's a few weeks wait ahead. Even if you order online now - for example, as a UK shoppers buying a 38mm Silver Aluminium Case with White Sport Band, the cheapest model available at £299 - you'll have to wait until June before your Watch arrives.

Still, while all of this is surely embarrassing to Apple, the slow launch is unlikely to have an enormous impact on the fortunes of the Watch.

Analysts have calculated that somewhere around 2.3 million orders have been take already, catapulting the device into the number one smartwatch position before it's even in the shops.

In reality it could take until the second or third version of the smartwatch before we can tell for certain if it will usher in the new era of wearable computing that it promised. The success or failure of the Apple Watch will show whether the smartwatch is a viable product category at all: nearly every other consumer electronics company has made multiple attempts to make smartwatches happen over the last decade (see the gallery below)

If Apple can't make it work then perhaps, for now, nobody can.

However, for those of you that can't get enough of those pictures of fanbois waving their new Apple device over their heads as the exit the Apple Store on launch day, don't worry too much. As Ahrendts' memo notes, normal launch day service will be resumed again soon.

"Are we going to launch every product this way from now on? No. We all love those blockbuster Apple product launch days--and there will be many more to come."

Gallery: Before the Apple Watch: A history of smartwatches, in pictures

Apple Watch and beyond: The strange history of smartwatches, in pictures

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