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Apple Watch in muted debut with crowds absent from Beijing store

In the country Apple Inc calls its most important overseas market, only 14 people lined up outside its store in Beijing on Friday to get their first peek at the company's new smartwatch.

[SAN FRANCISCO] In the country Apple Inc calls its most important overseas market, only 14 people lined up outside its store in Beijing on Friday to get their first peek at the company's new smartwatch.

The low-key reaction in the Chinese capital contrasts with previous device premieres, where crowds hundreds deep lined up and some people threw eggs at store windows when iPhones weren't available. It also contrasts with scenes in Tokyo and Sydney, where people waited for hours to get their hands on the wearable computer.

"I must be here," said Lloyd Yu, a 29-year-old office worker in Beijing carrying both an iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. "Everything Apple makes, I will buy at least one."

Apple's first new gadget under Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook is debuting in eight countries and Hong Kong for previews, with shipments scheduled to start April 24. Mr Cook has said China, which has 1.3 billion wireless subscribers, is poised to overtake the US as the company's biggest market.

Beijing devotees of the brand started lining up at about 6 am for the 9 am store opening. Mr Yu said his attraction to the Apple Watch is mainly fitness applications.

Hours before the Beijing rollout, where customers could walk right in and try the smartwatch on, about 100 people lined up outside Apple's store in Sydney.

"This is the way of the future - the sort of information we can get from these watches," Adam Goodes, 35, a professional Australian football player with the Sydney Swans, said as he stood near a table displaying the timepieces. "I definitely think it could make life a little bit easier."

Apple started taking orders online on Friday at 3:01 am in New York and recommended shoppers make appointments on its website to try on the watches, which range from US$349 to US$17,000 in the US.

The appointments and initial online-only sales mark a significant change for Apple, offering its first new product since the iPad five years ago. Long lines outside Apple stores have become a hallmark of new rollouts - die-hard fans have even been mocked by competitors in TV commercials.

On an overcast spring day in Tokyo, about 70 people gathered to see the watch, with one expecting transformation from the device.

"Apple's watch is much cooler than the smartwatches by other makers," said Osamu Takeuchi, a 23-year-old student. "It would change my life."

The company's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were greeted with crowds at stores worldwide in September, and Apple has said it anticipates that smartwatch demand will outpace initial supplies.

Apple may get 300,000 pre-orders in the first 24 hours and may sell 1 million watches during the opening weekend, including those early orders, according to Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos. He's estimating Apple may sell 8 million units this fiscal year, generating US$4.4 billion in revenue.

Apple received 4 million pre-orders of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus during its first 24 hours in September and sold more than 10 million during the first weekend, a record.

Apple is only displaying the smartwatch in stores, and the crowd at the Sydney store was smaller than when the iPhone 6 went on sale. Then, hundreds of people crowded outside the same store with a line snaking around the block.

"It's going to be challenging for them to get this buyer experience exactly right, especially early on, when there are likely to be large crowds of people that want to come in and see these things," said Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner Inc.

Optimism for Apple's new product lineup has helped push the company's shares to record highs this year. Sales of the Apple Watch may reach almost 14 million units in the fiscal year that ends in September, according to the average estimate of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

The watch will be on display in company stores in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, England and the U.S. In addition, Apple is previewing the watch at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Isetan in Tokyo, Selfridges in London, and select authorized resellers in Japan and China.

The watch, which has a digital touch-screen, comes in two face sizes and three styles and is offered with different bands. It tells time, for starters, and offers capabilities such as tracking the wearer's health and fitness data, giving directions, sending messages and controlling music. Apps are available for shopping, checking into flights and monitoring sports scores. The device must be paired with an iPhone to work.

Topo Kristyono, a Sydney resident in his 40s, doesn't wear a wristwatch and said he mostly relies on his iPhone to keep track of the time. He was one of the first in Sydney to check out Apple's latest release, and says he will probably buy one.

"I like the feel of it," he said.