Apple Watch launch: Plan ahead -- it's by appointment only

You won't be able to line up outside an Apple Store and walk out with an Apple Watch on April 24 or even after the launch day. Instead, you have to reserve your desired device online.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
5 min read

Apple Watch presales start April 10, and the device will be available April 24. James Martin/CNET

If you want to buy an Apple Watch, be sure to make a reservation.

Apple will start selling its first wearable, which costs from $349 to $17,000, on April 24. Preorders begin at 12:01 a.m. PT on April 10, and consumers will be able to try on the device in stores starting that day.

But you won't be able to walk into a store to purchase an Apple Watch like you can with the iPhone and iPad. Instead, all sales will be made through a reservation system, Apple confirmed Friday. And that's true for the indefinite future. Apple has no plans at this time to allow you to stop into a store and walk out with an Apple Watch, even after the device officially hits the market.

You also can't just walk up to a table and try out whatever Apple Watch you want. Instead, you have to meet with a store representative for a fitting, which you set up through an appointment or by being lucky enough to visit an Apple Store during a lull.

That all means there won't be the long lines common with every iPhone launch over the past few years. The only Apple Watches that will be available for purchase in retail stores are the devices that have been reserved online.

For consumers who reserve the smartwatch for in-store pickup on Day 1, be sure to know exactly which model, finish and band you want. It's possible all devices available that day will be reserved in advance, so there probably won't be additional inventory on hand to alter your order if you change your mind. Consumers will be able to order the device online, though, and have it shipped to their homes. Apple's app about Apple Watch lets you check out the different models, see what the different sizes look like on your wrist and explore features, making it easier to purchase online without having actually seen the device in person.

The move to offer Apple Watch only by reservation is likely for two reasons -- making sure Apple has the right inventory on hand for what consumers want and being able to walk through the process with potential buyers when they come into the store. Apple Watch is different from any other device the Cupertino, Calif., company has ever sold. There are more options to choose from, and Apple Watch is a more personal, fashion-centric device. Because it's a new product, Apple wants to make sure consumers are comfortable with their choices and understand how the device works before they walk out of the store.

Watch this: Up close with Apple Watch

The Apple Watch comes in two sizes -- 42mm or 38mm -- and three designs -- the aluminum-cased Apple Watch Sport, stainless-steel-cased Apple Watch and the 18-karat-gold-cased Apple Watch Edition. The aluminum comes with silver or space gray options, while the stainless steel comes in its namesake color or a space black version. The gold watch is available in 18-karat yellow gold or 18-karat rose gold. There also are a variety of bands that can be easily swapped, including a Milanese loop of metal mesh with magnets, a leather band that auto-attaches, a segmented metal link band, a classic leather watchband, a leather loop band, and a more plasticized sport band in bright colors.

The entry-level device, the aluminum and glass Apple Watch Sport with plastic band, starts at $349. The premium gold Apple Watch Edition starts at $10,000 and goes as high as $17,000.

Trying on Apple Watch

With the fittings that start April 10, you can try to walk into a store to get a fitting, but you may have to wait a long time or be told there's no available time slots. It's better to plan ahead and make an appointment, each of which is scheduled in 15-minute increments (though Apple's not going to kick you out if you take longer than 15 minutes to try on Apple Watch). We should find out more details about signing up for appointments in the coming days.

If you do manage to nab a fitting without making a reservation online, that doesn't mean you'll be able to buy the watch right then, even if it's after the April 24 launch day. For the time being, you'll still need to either order your chosen Apple Watch online and have it shipped it to your house or make a reservation to come back and pick it up when it's available.

Apple Watch wristbands collection (pictures)

See all photos

There also are some differences between trying on the pricey Apple Watch Edition and the other two models. When signing up for an Apple Watch fitting, you have to specify whether you're interested in Apple Watch/Apple Watch Sport or the gold Apple Watch Edition. Edition customers will have a different experience, including having the fitting in a separate, designated area, Apple confirmed. The precise details will vary based on store, but don't expect anything as dramatic as champagne and a red carpet rolled out for Apple Watch Edition buyers.

Apple Watch rentals

If signing up for an appointment at an Apple Store doesn't appeal to you, you can check out renting an Apple Watch for a week through Lumoid. The Silicon Valley startup provides a home try-on service for electronics for a fee and then refunds part of the cost if you ultimately decide to buy a brand-new version of the device.

Spending a week with Apple Watch Sport will cost $45, with $25 of that going toward final purchase of the device. The regular Apple Watch (which retails from $549 to $1,099) is available for a fee of $55, with $30 going toward the final purchase. Lumoid won't be offering Apple Watch Edition. Renters are able to select which band they want to try out.

A few thousand people are already on Lumoid's Apple Watch waitlist. Starting April 24, the company will start renting out the Apple Watch either alone or as one of five devices in a "Wearables Box," which allows consumers to try many smartwatches at once.

Lumoid doesn't have a relationship with Apple but will instead be preordering Apple Watches and sending out a team to buy the watch in bulk on April 24.

Tune back to CNET for more information leading up to the Apple Watch launch.

Update, 1:20 p.m. PT: Adds information about rentals.

Correction, 2:39 p.m. PT: Fixes rental fee for Apple Watch through Lumoid.