SYDNEY, Australia -- The Apple Watch fitting experience begins today: a personalised, jewellery-style process to assist buyers in choosing the model, band and sizing to best suit their needs. Apple has made it clear this is a very different approach to selling iPhones and Macs -- there are no Apple Watches to be found in boxes on shelves, and reservations are required. Let's see how this works in the real world.
At the flagship Apple store here, it might only be the start of a preorder window but there was still a good crowd of shoppers eager to see the Apple Watch on display. There wasn't a crazy iPhone-style queue, though a few early arrivals were quickly offered appointments and told they could leave and return at the appointed time. We were told walkup appointments would be available, though appointments would be assigned time slots and told to browse while they waited or to return for their appointment later in the day.
Two new display tables were now in store. One, a long drop-in glass-covered table with all 38 models of Apple Watch on show -- from the entry-level Apple Watch Sport right through to the top of line Apple Watch Edition. The second was a hands-on display table with the steel Apple Watch running an interactive demo loop. You couldn't control the demo progress, but within each stage you could perform relevant interactions, from exploring your photo library, to reading messages, to feeling the new 'taptic' vibrations and tinkering with basic watch functions.
A special table area was dedicated to those with a fitting appointment. These tables are very much like a jewellery store arrangement, with display mats and drawers full of Apple Watch models for you to try, in both 38mm and 42mm sizes. While appointments were allocated in 15-minute windows, you can take your time when it's your turn to try it out. I saw one customer in a fitting for at least 30 minutes as they explored the many options before finally placing their order.
When my turn came up, I was given a fitting at another table with a mobile tray of Apple Watch options to explore. This clever tray actually keeps the watches charged, with the tray itself recharging via Magsafe laptop adapter.
The demo loop on the fitting models was a non-interactive loop. Essentially a video, a double tap on the power button required to switch the screen on and off in this mode. I was directed back to the interactive demo tables if I wanted to play with the interface.
We started with a 38mm Apple Watch Sport, which was very quickly ruled out -- too small for my meaty wrists. Then to the 42mm Apple Watch Sport in Space Grey. Only through trying it on could I grasp how soft and smooth the rubber of this model would feel, that it wouldn't grab at the hair on my wrist, and how light the aluminium model would be.
Going into the fitting I'd felt sure the Milanese Loop band was my favourite, the attractive steel mesh catching my eye. But once I saw it on my wrist I saw the style was just wrong for my untanned Irish complexion.
Once we hit the Steel Link Bracelet I was surprised how much I liked the heft and style. It had that 'real, serious watch' feeling on my wrist. And this was not the model I had ever expected to like the most.
The assistant was happy for me to return to the aluminium model to compare the weight and feeling of the two so I could settle on which model felt best for me.
Ordering an Apple Watch then takes place right there at the fitting area, with Apple staff having their mobile payment processing devices right on hand.
The fitting process makes sense for Apple Watch. There is no single device on sale nor are you being offered a mix-and-match arrangement of watches and bands to choose from. Apple is selling models as a package, and there are 38 models to choose from. Like choosing any watch, there are so many options you need to see and feel it on before you know what you really want. If I grabbed the model I thought I wanted off a shelf without trying it on I'd have just spent a lot of money on something I'd soon have hated.
About the money: Prices for the Apple Watch span a dizzying range, from AU$499 (US$349, £299) all the way up to AU$24,000 (US$17,000, £13,500). The fittings aside, the first Apple Watches won't get into in customers' hands until 24 April.
Watching others waiting their turn, it did seem like a backlog of appointments may have been building. It's day one and things will likely settle in, but this is new ground for Apple -- requiring shoppers to take a more patient approach to buying a new device will take some getting used to for some, particularly when we pass from preorders into on-sale dates.
But the in-store experience makes sense if you want an Apple Watch and want to know you're choosing the model that suits you best.