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Shop different: What's a new product launch without lines around the Apple Store?

Michael Simon | April 27, 2015
There was a time when Apple launches didn't light up headlines around the web. When the original iPod was released back in November of 2001, for example, the only people lining up were at Apple Stores in Littleton, Colorado, and Newport Beach, California--and most of them weren't looking to fork over $399 for an mp3 player. They just wanted one of the free grand-opening T-shirts.

As a dyed-in-the-wool Apple fan, I've done my share of waiting. Whether I was buying or trying, I've done a fair amount of line standing (and sitting), eagerly anticipating the moment when I would be motioned to enter through the gleaming glass doors. I've been there for OS X releases, iPhone and iPad launches, and even a Black Friday sale or two. I've struck up more ephemeral friendships than I can remember, and even for products I've preordered, I still enjoy strolling past my local Apple Store on launch days to take in the spectacle. Sure, there are some unsavory line-dwellers just looking to cash in, but the vast majority of the people still seem to be just like me: anxious to get their hands on Apple's latest toy.

It's a phenomenon usually reserved for limited-edition Air Jordans or Black Friday doorbusters, not a product that will be on shelves for the next two years. When Rolex unveils a new Submariner or BMW refreshes its 3 series, people don't line up to see it, nor do they delay their purchases based on rumors of a new model. And Apple might be looking to adopt a similar image.

Watch and learn

A few weeks back, Apple's senior vice president of online and retail stores, Angela Ahrendts, issued a memo to staffers declaring in no uncertain terms that "the days of waiting in line ... are over for our customers." Would-be Watch buyers were directed to preorder online, where we would presumably pick our favorite model for April 24 delivery, but many models were backordered from the outset. In fact, the Space Black Stainless Steel watch I ordered just minutes after it was available isn't slated to arrive until June.

Now, this obviously isn't the first time an Apple product has a months-long backlog (and hopefully they'll ship sooner than promised), but Apple Watch is different than the usual iPhone waiting list. Nothing about Apple Watch's availability changes on its actual launch day. You'll still have to make an appointment to try one on, you still won't be able to buy one on the store, and you'll still have to wait weeks if you want to wear one. For all intents and purposes, it "launched" two weeks ago.

With a few dozen combinations to choose from (and special Edition models already popping up on the arms of celebrities), stores will likely have a short supply of models for impulse buyers even after the initial orders are all filled. Apple will surely study sales to see which models are most popular, but I doubt you'll ever be able to walk into an Apple Store and walk out with a $17,000 Apple Watch Edition on your wrist (even if you can afford to do so).


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