Apple Watch opens for pre-order, signals start of new era for wearables

Demand is expected to exceed supply for the much anticipated Apple Watch, which was made available for pre-order today ahead of April 24 deliveries.

Apple’s first foray into the wearable technology world, a smart watch that starts at $349, is largely being pushed online, but stores in numerous countries worldwide also have appointments available for try-on sessions.

In the early part of the day, there were crowds of shoppers seen in Sydney aiming to get a peek at the device, though just 20 people queuing outside beforehand, many having taking the instruction to buy online rather than go in store from the brand to heart. It was a similar story in Hong Kong.

To queue or not to queue is all part of the Apple hype. The big question is will shoppers continue to buy the Apple Watch in the long run?

Estimates of just how many units it will sell wildly differ, showing that the unknown factor here, is the brand’s effect on what has, up to now, been seen as a fairly slow burn category. Analysts Piper Jaffray have estimated Apple will shift around 8m watches while Global Securities are much more bullish setting its sights on 40m.

While Apple is suggesting this is its next big hit, it’s unlikely to achieve the same kind of sales as its previous high profile product launches (think iPod, iPhone, iPad). The iPhone in comparison sold 200m units last year.

But another stat from Societe Generale, suggests the Apple Watch, which enables users to track their fitness, send messages, interact with social media, listen to music and more, will account for 55% of smart watch shipments this year,which would make it the most successful piece of wearable tech to date.

What’s interesting otherwise is its placement as a luxury item. No information has been released about how many of the $10,000 – $17,000 18-karat gold versions of the Apple Watch Edition (one of three variations) are being made available, but safe to say they won’t make up a huge bulk of that 40m-unit estimate. The move is more of a marketing one; a bid to place Apple firmly in the fashion camp, as evidenced by its courting of big fashion editors and placement of a 12-page ad spread in US Vogue.

The company has also partnered with Selfridges in London, Galeries Lafayette in Paris and Isetan in Tokyo on pop-up stores demonstrating and selling the product, and by proxy helping position it as a must-have accessory.

Doing so is also making traditional watchmakers sit up and pay attention. TAG Heuer recently announced it is joining forces with Google and Intel to launch a smart watch due for delivery sometime between October and December 2015. Others including Breitling, Montblanc and Mondaine are playing in the space too.

All eyes and thoughts are also on the Holiday and Christmas market and crucially whether the first Apple watch adopters will be followed by a bigger second wave of enthusiasts. Could we see another Apple Xmas/holiday wipeout with the watch becoming this year’s big gift which would seriously dent other retailer’s Holiday sales?

WGSN’s Rachel Arthur,  Senior Editor Digital and Marketing, says it is really too early to say what the take up is likely to be but she suspects it won’t be the kind to crush other retailers’ Holiday hopes for 2015. But she warns, you can bet its effect is significant for the Holiday sales of the future: “Apple is helping lift the wearable technology market full stop. Where previously the idea of form and function didn’t co-exist in this space, the Apple Watch is raising the bar for others to do the same.

“What’s actually exciting about the fact it’s available for pre-order from today is not about this device landing on individual doorsteps later this month, but the future products it inspires down the road.”

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