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Business

Apple Watch debuts to consumers around the world

No other wearable device has caused as big a stir as the Apple Watch. Reviews of its functionality and utility have been mixed, but that hasn't stopped Apple fans from lining up around the world to catch a first glimpse.

Friday marked the consumer debut of the Apple Watch, the first new gadget line that the world's most valuable technology company has rolled out since the passing of its iconic founder, Steve Jobs, in 2011.

As tech enthusiasts lined up outside the companies' stores in Sydney, Tokyo and Hong Kong to be the first to get their hands on the new smartwatch, the world was once again reminded that no other technology company's product launches draw as much attention as Apple's.

Reviews of the Apple Watch have so far been mixed, with some experts dismayed at the device's short battery life and slow-to-load apps. Others praised the design, saying Apple had once again lived up to its reputation for raising the industry standard.

Apple fans will be able to try on the watch and choose from 54 different configurations starting on the US West Coast at 12:01 a.m. PDT (0701 GMT) on Friday. Apple will also begin accepting pre-orders in its stores and online at that time, although it won't begin shipping until April 24.

The technology giant has said demand for its new smartwatch would initially exceed supply, although analysts' sales estimates have ranged widely.

Piper Jaffray guessed Apple would sell 8 million units in 2015, while Global Securities Research put that figure at 40 million. Either way, those forecasts pale in comparison to the 200 million iPhones that Apple sold last year.

But as companies vie for market share in the nascent wearables sector, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is expected to come out on top. Societe Generale has said it expected the Apple Watch to account for 55 percent of global smartwatch shipments in 2015.

Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive, has billed the watch as a must-have accessory, and the company has taken a new approach to its marketing strategy unlike that of any other Apple product.

The company has been teaming up with high-end boutique shops around the world to market the watch as a must-have accessory aimed at wealthy consumers. Few industry analysts, however, expect Apple to muscle traditional watchmakers out of the luxury-brand watch market.

The price range of the new watch is vast: An entry-level Sport model with a wristband made of "fluoroelastomer" - a rubbery, synthetic material - goes for around $349, while the high-end Edition model, with its 18-karat yellow or rose gold watch case and sapphire crystal display can cost as much as $17,000.

cjc/uhe (Reuters, AFP)

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