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Apple Watch Line Wraps Around Block, but Not at Apple Store

What's an Apple product launch without a line? Just somewhere else.

Dawn Chmielewski

Maxfield’s posh customers don’t typically bring folding chairs anywhere, let alone to shop at the trendy West Hollywood fashion boutique.

But Maxfield’s carried the one thing that not even Apple retail stores, or any shop on the West Coast had: The Apple Watch, for sale, in the flesh. Only the stainless steel model with the Milanese loop bracelet and the lower-priced Sport model were available. The gold Edition model, displayed prominently on the store’s homepage, was not available.

Tennessee native Richard Ryan arrived at 8 am Thursday from Simi Valley to be the first in line to purchase an Apple Watch. He’s been fixating on the device since Apple announced the smartwatch in September, and he has spent the better part of two weeks trying to figure out how best to lay his hands on the gadget on the day of its retail debut.

His plans for the watch — “Destroy it,” said Ryan, who runs the YouTube channel FullMag, which boasts a feature called Tech Assassin. He said he plans to subject his Apple Watch and two others his associates plan to purchase to a week of extreme stress tests, including freezing one device in liquid nitrogen and attempting to blow up another inside a hydrogen balloon.

The Apple Watch marks the first new product category for the Cupertino technology giant since the 2010 introduction of the iPad. Apple has built anticipation for the new device for months, plotting a promotional strategy worthy of a must-have fashion accessory, complete with a 12-page ad spread in Vogue and a former supermodel spokesperson.

Apple hasn’t released any information about pre-orders, which started April 10. One shopping data firm estimated that 957,000 people in the U.S. pre-ordered an Apple Watch on the first day it was available, based on its panel of two million online shoppers. Slice Intelligence reported that 62 percent of consumers bought the less-expensive Apple Watch Sport model, based on receipt data from 9,080 online shoppers.

On Friday morning, hundreds of people stood in a line that stretched from Maxfield’s main entrance, around the back of the store, past an adjacent animal hospital and up the sidewalk. Some of those assembled, including filmmaker Ali Askari, said they’d endured previous tests of endurance to be among the first to buy a hot new pair of sneakers or clothing. The line sitters came prepared with folding chairs, sleeping bags and snack food for their overnight vigil.

Sherif Gabriel said hopped in his car at 7 am Thursday and drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles to lay his hands on an Apple Watch — preferably an Apple Watch with stainless steel case and blue leather band.

“I thought, God, if I get there and the line is huge that will be awful,” said Gabriel.

Gabriel, who endured a similar overnight ordeal to buy an iPhone 6 smartphone, was not disappointed. He was fifth in line.

Cowen and Co. analyst Timothy Arcuri predicted that weekend pre-order sales could easily reach the million-unit range, with Apple selling as many as three million watches by the end of its June quarter. A survey it conducted of some 3,000 adults revealed strong consumer intentions to purchase the device — though Arcuri projects modest sales of around 10 million watches this fiscal year.

“We still view Apple Watch v1.0 as a category creator that won’t ultimately wow consumers until v2.0 version later this year,” Arcuri wrote.

Other analysts are bullish, with UBS projecting the company will sell some 16 million watches in the June and September quarters, with sales ramping to 40 million in the next fiscal year.

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