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Apple Watch to hit retail stores, expand to more countries in June

Apple says most orders placed in May will be delivered to customers within the next two weeks.

Apple Watch may soon be on many more wrists. Sarah Tew/CNET

Customers around the world will have more ways to get their hands -- or wrists -- on Apple Watch in the coming weeks.

Apple Watch will be available in Apple's brick-and-mortar retail stores within two weeks, the company announced on Thursday, ending months of speculation on when it'll finally make its smartwatch available to customers who walk into its stores. In addition, Apple said it's expanding the availability of Apple Watch to seven more countries, including Italy, Mexico, South Korea, Spain and Taiwan, starting June 26.

Apple also had good news for customers who already ordered Apple Watch. All orders placed through May via Apple's online store will "ship to customers within two weeks," Jeff Williams, Apple senior vice president of operations, said in a statement. The only exception is the 42mm Space Black Stainless Steel with Space Black Link Bracelet Apple Watch model, Williams said, without providing details on when that model will ship for customers who ordered it in May. Customers who try to buy that model today will need to wait five to six weeks for it to ship, according to Apple's online store.

The Apple Watch, which requires an iPhone 5 or later to run basic apps and receive notifications, is Apple's first foray into the wearables space. The smartwatch tops out at $17,000 for the 18-karat gold edition, with more modestly priced options, like Apple Watch Sport, starting at $349.

Apple first unveiled the Apple Watch in September 2014, and the device went on sale in April in a handful of countries, including the US and the UK. It's also now available in China, France, Germany and Hong Kong, among other markets. Competitors include a range of new or updated smartwatches from companies including Sony, Samsung, Huawei, Motorola, LG and Pebble.

Still, it's the Apple Watch that spurred more interest in the smartwatch market. Earlier this week, research firm IHS reported that shipments on smartwatch displays will jump 250 percent year-over-year to 34 million units in 2015. Apple Watch will contribute to 49 percent of those shipments worldwide, leaving the rest to the market's many remaining smartwatches, IHS said.

"Apple Watch has attracted a lot of attention from consumers," IHS director of analysis and research Hiroshi Hayase said in a statement Monday.

Indeed, Apple Watch has been hard to come by. After it was offered on preorder in April, initial units quickly sold out, pushing shipment dates back to June. Apple has been able to keep its shipment dates to June as customers have placed more orders, but only the lucky few who preordered the smartwatch early were able to get it on launch day.

Apple has remained tight-lipped on several points related to Apple Watch and its availability. For one, the company has yet to say how many units it has sold and hasn't offered any concrete reason for its decision to keep orders online and not in stores. Some analysts have suggested that demand could be extremely high for Apple Watch, though others speculate that manufacturing has been a bottleneck.

Either way, Apple has only offered Apple Watch online and, until Thursday, gave no indication of when it would offer the device in-store. With a timeline now in place and the smartwatch headed to more markets this month, it's likely Apple Watch will be on more wrists in the coming weeks.

Apple is holding its Worldwide Developers Conference next week, with CEO Tim Cook delivering a keynote on Monday. It's possible that the company will talk up Apple Watch at the show and maybe even reveal sales numbers. It's unclear why Apple decided to announce the Apple Watch news on Thursday rather than wait until Monday to share the details during its keynote.

Regardless, Apple has cleared up some of the questions customers and analysts have been speculating on. In addition to its retail stores, Apple said that in some international markets, it'll offer the device in "select Apple Authorized Resellers" stores, including The Hour Glass in Singapore.

This story has been updated throughout the morning.