Today, the Apple Watch finally landed in the company's retail stores — and it was sort of anti-climactic, as far as new Apple products go.
There weren't the usual lines of fans waiting outside — first of all, because the watches are available only to try out (you can't but them in the store yet), and second, because the company has been encouraging customers to schedule appointments online.
And while retail watchers wondered if Apple's stores would get a makeover with the arrival of the Watch, which can cost all the way up to $17,000 a pop, they've remained pretty much the same.
The difference, of course, is that there's now a major new product line alongside the laptops, iPads, and iPhones. You can play with demo watches that are permanently attached to touchscreen guides, or look at the different kinds available in a glass case; those are built into and displayed on the same exact wooden tables that showcase everything else.
But you'll need an employee if you want to try the watches on, as they're tucked away in drawers. That takes place on the sales floor with existing staff, just like any other product.
The exception is with the "Edition" collection, the gold watch line that begins at $10,000. Even then, the special treatment might not be all that special — at the Manhattan store on the Upper West Side, appointments take place in a designated area of the main floor; at the massive Fifth Avenue store near Central Park, the fittings occur in a VIP room that one retail employee said has been used in the past when celebrities visit the store.
Demo displays and watch-fitting zones.
The real value in talking to a store employee is figuring out what the different watches feel like on your wrist and seeing which look best against your skin. ("What's your favorite color?" is the first question I was asked at a demo for reporters this morning on the Upper West Side.) It's also useful to navigate apps and fiddle with the "digital crown" on the side of the watch while it's on your wrist, particularly if you've never used a smartwatch before.
But given the Apple Watch is essentially a notification system for the alerts you currently get on your smartphone, it's difficult to tell what it will actually be like for you without connecting it to your phone. You can't do that in the store, or use Wi-Fi to send a text message or an email to yourself, at least in the demo I got today.
Still, customers were eagerly chatting with staff about the watches and playing with those on display at the Fifth Avenue store, watched by about as many reporters and Apple employees.
Jack and Carol Weber, professors at the University of Virginia, were the first customers taken into the VIP for an appointment to try out the gold Apple Watch Edition at the Fifth Avenue store today (Jack said staff referred to it as "the vault").
Apple's VIP room at its Fifth Avenue store
Their reason for purchasing one of the watches, which is made with 18-karat gold, was charming — the two will celebrate their 50th, or golden, wedding anniversary in September. Jack Weber said he purchased a stainless steel watch online around 3 a.m., then made an appointment to view the Edition for Carol, happening to get the 9 a.m. one at the Fifth Avenue store.
The Webers, who said they own Apple stock and trade options, are huge fans of the company and had zero hesitation around buying first editions of the watch. Both were thrilled by the visit, which they deemed much "warmer" and "less elitist" than a typical luxury shopping experience. In addition to the VIP room, Carol noted that customers who buy the Edition get a special support email and phone number for one-on-one attention afterward, both of which were written for her on the back of a business card.
Apple Watch Edition customers also get a single employee to staff their "journey," from start to finish, while regular Apple Watch customers might get setup help from a different employee than the one who gave them a demo.
Of course, the lack of lines and preordering experience hasn't had any effect on demand for a cool new toy out of Apple — demand online seemed brisk, with customers posting screenshots suggesting it may take months for the company to fulfill all the orders made in the early hours of this morning, when the Watch first went on sale online.