While you can already pre-order an Apple Watch online, you likely won’t be able to walk into an Apple store and go home with one of the smartwatches anytime soon, as supply of Apple’s first wearable will remain severely constrained during the first months of its availability.
A memo sent to Apple’s retail employees by the company’s retail chief Angela Ahrendts and obtained by The Telegraph said that there will be no Apple Watches available for customers to buy as walk-out purchases at least until June. Customers will, instead, be directed to order their Apple Watches online in order to receive the device faster. Ahrendts notes that customers who have preordered an Apple Watch will begin receiving them on April 24, “as planned.”
Ahrendts’s memo explained that while many customers are asking whether the Apple Watch will be available for walk-in purchases, “due to high global interest combined with our initial supply, we are only taking orders online right now. I’ll have more updates as we get closer to in-store availability, but we expect this to continue through the month of May.” The memo goes on to explain the logic behind the decision:
It’s important to remember that Apple Watch is not just a new product but an entirely new category for us. There’s never been anything quite like it. To deliver the kind of service our customers have come to expect – and that we expect from ourselves – we designed a completely new approach. That’s why, for the first time, we are previewing a new product in our stores before it has started shipping.
Ahrendts says that Apple will be able to get customers the Apple Watch model they want “earlier and faster” by taking their orders online. “For customers who want to buy a watch, please continue to help them place their order online. Also make sure they know that, wherever they buy, Apple will provide them with a great Personal Setup experience – either online or in our stores.” She also assured employees that not every product launch will be handled this way in the future, which Apple Insider’s Katie Marsal thinks implies that products like the iPhone will continue to see limited in-store availability at launch.
Preorders for the Apple Watch began on April 10, and as Tech Cheat Sheet reported, most of the initial supply sold out within the first hour. Even within an hour of the watch becoming available for preorder, few models would ship earlier than in four to six weeks, and new orders for most models won’t be delivered until June. Customers are estimated to have preordered almost 1 million Apple Watches on the first day of their availability alone, and Apple Insider’s Mikey Campbell reports that KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo estimates that Apple Watch preorders will exceed 2.3 million units, even as production bottlenecks related to the device’s haptic vibrator and OLED screen are responsible for the limited supply.
Kuo thinks that mass production of the Apple Watch started in March and should reach an output of 2.3 million units by the end of May. Taking into consideration Apple’s current supply chain capacity and future expansion plans, Kuo thinks that production could reach 2 to 3 million units per month, and writes that output could top out at 2.5 million units in June.
But limitations such as a restricted supply of vibration motors from AAC and AMOLED screens from LG Display could stand in the way of Apple accelerating the manufacturing of the Apple Watch. Campbell notes that AAC’s motors need to meet stringent operating requirements while maintaining a smaller form factor than the motors for the iPhone, and LG needs to create panels with high color accuracy and a long lifespan. Kuo estimates that Apple will ship between 15 million and 20 million Apple Watches in 2015, well below the Wall Street consensus of somewhere between 20 million and 30 million units.
While you can’t actually buy an Apple Watch in Apple’s network of retail stores, you can get a preview of the hardware by setting an appointment or walking in to a store. You can try on demo Apple Watch units in a variety of models and with an array of different bands, or look at Apple Watch units in fixed displays at your local Apple store.