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[TOKYO] The Apple Watch launched globally on Friday with a small queue of Japanese tech-addicts lining up in Tokyo for Apple Inc's first wearable gadget, but there was no sign of the excitement usually attached to the company's product rollouts.
Buyers can take the smartwatch home from a handful of upscale boutiques and department stores, including The Corner in Berlin, Maxfield in Los Angeles and Dover Street Market in Tokyo and London, which Apple courted to help position the watch as a fashion item.
But the gadget will not be sold at Apple stores on Friday. The company is directing people to order online instead, which should prevent the lines of Apple devotees who typically flock to iPhone and iPad launches.
About 50 people lined up to buy the watch at electronic store Bic Camera in Tokyo's Ginza district, while at the nearby Apple Store it was like any other Friday, according to Reuters reporters at the shops. "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 while queuing up at Bic Camera. "I like to run, so the heart rate reader is a progress," he added.
At a retail outlet of mobile carrier SoftBank Corp around 20 people queued to get their hands on the gadget. "I want to develop my own application that's compatible with the smartwatch," 27-year-old IT worker Tatsuya Omori said as he waited in line outside the store. "I'm also an Apple fan. I simply want it." The lack of queues at Apple stores will make it hard to judge popular demand for the watch, which comes in 38 variations with prices ranging from US$349 for the Sport version to US$10,000 and more for the gold Edition.
Apple has not released any numbers since it opened for pre-orders on April 10, although many buyers were told their watches would not arrive for a month or more as supply appeared to dry up.
Wall Street estimates of Apple Watch sales vary widely. FBR Capital Markets analyst Daniel Ives raised his sales estimate this week to 20 million watches from 17 million, based in part on online order backlogs.
"There was a question over whether the trajectory and demand for wearables in the Apple ecosystem was there and real," said Ives. "But it's a resounding yes." Apple itself said on Wednesday that some customers will get watches faster than promised. "Our team is working to fill orders as quickly as possible based on the available supply and the order in which they were received," Apple said in a statement.
The Cupertino, California company previously predicted that demand would exceed supply at product launch.