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Apple Watch walk-in sales may not start till June

Retail chief Angela Ahrendts says it'll be online orders only through May for the Apple Watch, reports say. Meanwhile, one analyst's estimate for preorders jumps to 2.3 million.

Apple Watch preorders may have topped 2.3 million, says one analyst CNET

Don't count on making an impulse buy of an Apple Watch in stores anytime soon.

One obstacle facing the Apple Watch is that buyers must currently either make a reservation to buy one or purchase it online. That is, you can't just stroll into your local Apple Store and walk out with an Apple Watch -- and that process may not change until June at the earliest.

A purported Apple internal memo from retail chief Angela Ahrendts obtained by both The Telegraph and 9to5Mac responds to employees asking whether the watch -- Apple's first foray into smart wearables -- would be available in stores starting April 24 for walk-in purchases.

And the answer is no, according to Ahrendts. Apple so far has been accepting only online orders as a result of the high interest in the watch and the state of the smartwatch's initial supply, and now, she said in the memo, "we expect this to continue through the month of May."

By not allowing in-store purchases, Apple ostensibly wanted to avoid the long wait lines often associated with its new-product launches and prevent customers from leaving the store empty-handed. In the memo, Ahrendts pointed to the Apple Watch as not just a new product but a new category that required a new approach. "To deliver the kind of service our customers have come to expect -- and that we expect from ourselves -- we designed a completely new approach," she said. "That's why, for the first time, we are previewing a new product in our stores before it has started shipping."

Other companies, including Samsung, Motorola, Pebble and Huawei, have all entered the smartwatch market but have been unable to break out of a small niche. Apple Watch is viewed by many as the product that could bring smartwatches into the mainstream.

"The Apple Watch will be instrumental in taking the wearables market to the next level of growth," chief of research Ben Wood at market researcher CCS Insight said in a statement in February. "If successful, it'll create a rising tide that will lift the whole market."

Ahrendts promised more updates as the April 24 date approaches. That's when the Apple Watch officially goes on sale, but preorders started last Friday, April 10, in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong and Japan.

How have those preorders been going? Apple hasn't said yet, but Wall Street analysts have been offering their best guesses.

In an investors note released Wednesday and picked up by MacRumors and 9to5Mac, Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst at financial services firm KGI Securities, pegs global preorders at more than 2.3 million, basing that number in part on the firm's estimate of Apple's rate of production. Kuo's past estimates of Apple product sales have been on the money more often than not.

Both Cowen & Co. and Piper Jaffray have estimated that Apple Watch preorders reached around 1 million for the opening weekend. It's unclear if Kuo's estimate encompasses more than just those first three days.

But even 1 million preorders is a promising start for Apple amid the competition. In 2014, only 720,000 devices outfitted with Android Wear, Google's mobile operating system for wearables, were shipped, according to a February report from research firm Canalys. Kuo's estimate of 2.3 million is even more promising as consumers overall bought a total of 4.6 million smart wearable bands for all of last year.

The Apple Watch is available in three different flavors -- the entry-level Sport version, the midlevel Apple Watch and the luxury Apple Watch Edition. The Sport version starts at $349, the Apple Watch at $549 and the Apple Watch Edition at $10,000. Kuo's predicts that among the 2.3 million preorders, the Apple Watch Sport accounted for 85 percent, the Apple Watch for 15 percent and the Apple Watch Edition for just 1 percent.

Kuo's estimate would imply that consumers are scooping up the Apple Watch. But the analyst isn't sure if the watch will be a hit as he believes that hardcore Apple fans have accounted for most of the preorders so far. The watch does require an iOS device such as an iPhone or iPad to take advantage of certain features such as notifications. So the vast number of Android phone owners who want a smartwatch are likely more inclined to pick an Android watch.

Apple plans to expand production of its watch to 2 to 3 million units per month. But Kuo believes that production could face delays due to technical issues with the haptic, or tactile, feedback on the watch's display.

As for the lack of walk-in sales and the emphasis on online orders, don't expect that to be a trend for Apple, according to Ahrendts. For future devices such as new iPhones and iPads, Apple will apparently go back to the the traditional approach of offering in-store sales the first day the product launches.

Apple did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.