Backlogged orders as shoppers get close-up look at Apple Watch

By Noel Randewich and Astrid Wendlandt

SAN FRANCISCO/PARIS (Reuters) – Customers preordering Apple Inc‘s smartwatch on Friday will have to wait at least a month for delivery, an early sign of strong demand for company chief Tim Cook’s first new major product.

People flocked to Apple‘s stores around the world to get a close-up look at the Apple Watch, the tech company’s first foray into the personal luxury goods market.

The device was available for preorder online and to try out in stores by appointment, but not to take home. Cook, interviewed on cable television channel CNBC, said initial orders were “great.”

Apple predicted on Thursday that demand would exceed supply at product launch.

Without knowing how many watches consumers have ordered, Wall Street analysts said it was too early to adjust their estimates for sales of the gadget. Another key factor in the watch’s success will be demand once an initial wave of interest from Apple enthusiasts subsides.

The watch goes on sale officially on April 24, online and through appointments in shops, including trendy fashion boutiques in Paris, London and Tokyo, part of Apple’s strategy of positioning the wearable computer as a must-have accessory.

But soon after online preorders opened on Friday, Apple’s website listed shipping times in June for some models of the watch and four to six weeks for others.

There was immediately brisk bidding on eBay for confirmed orders for watches, with hundreds of sellers looking to make a few hundred or even thousand dollars by passing on their watches, once received.

The lowest-priced Sport model on eBay was $470 (321 pounds), a markup of more than $100. A top-of-the-line gold Apple Watch Edition was listed for $20,000 on Ebay, $3,000 more than its official price.

Testing Apple’s mastery of consumer trends, the watch is an untried concept for the Cupertino, California-based company. It straddles a technology market accustomed to rapid obsolescence and luxury goods whose appeal lies in their enduring value.

At an Apple store in Paris, staff cheered the first customers, most of them men under 30 years old.

“I have everything from Apple, so now I need to get the watch,” 19-year-old Jeremy Dugue, wearing an Armani leather jacket, said after ordering the stainless steel model at 1,149 euros ($1,218).

The Apple Watch sport starts at $349 while the standard

version comes in at $549 in the United States. High-end “Edition” watches with 18-karat gold alloys are priced from $10,000 and go as high as $17,000.

MIXED REVIEWS

At Apple’s flagship store in New York, Jack Weber, who was visiting from Charlottesville, Virginia, said he would give his wife a top-of-the-line “Edition” as a 50th-anniversary gift.

“What more perfect wedding present could there be than this watch,” he said.

Long wait times will likely stimulate more demand for the watch – which allows users to check email, listen to music and make phone calls when paired with an iPhone – with little risk of losing impatient customers, said JMP analyst Alex Gauna.

“You would want to catch up by the holiday season,” Gauna said. “But based on what’s out there in Android land, I don’t think there’s an extreme risk in near term of losing customers who must have a smartwatch and will go to some alternative.”

Android is Google’s mobile operating system used on many smartwatches.

Reviewers this week praised the watch, which also helps

users monitor their health and exercise, as “beautiful” and

“stylish” but gave it poor marks for relatively low battery life

and slow-loading apps.

Sales estimates for 2015 vary widely. Piper Jaffray predicts

8 million units and Global Securities Research forecasts 40

million. By comparison, Apple sold nearly 200 million iPhones

last year.

Apple’s watch is widely expected to outsell those by

Samsung <005930.KS>, Sony Corp <6758.T> and Fitbit, which have attracted modest interest from consumers. It will likely account for 55 percent of global smartwatch shipments this year, according to Societe Generale.

“Apple will outsell its wearable rivals by a very wide margin but it will do this on the power of its brand and its design alone,” independent technology analyst Richard Windsor said.

“Consequently, I am sticking to my 20 million forecast for the first 12 months and see the potential for some sogginess in the stock as reality sets in.”

Apple shares were up 0.45 percent at $127.13 in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq.

(Additional reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in Bengaluru, Teppei Kasai in Tokyo, Paul Sandle in London, Pauline Askin in Sydney, Malathi Nayak in New York, Yasmeen Abutaleb in San Francisco, Bill Rigby in Seattle,; Editing by Keith Weir)

Backlogged orders as shoppers get close-up look at Apple Watch