AT&T won't sell the Apple Watch at launch, other carriers silent on sales plans

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) filled in some crucial details about its first wearable, the Apple Watch, including its price range and battery life, but stayed largely silent on how it will actually sell the device. So far, it looks like U.S. wireless carriers are not going to be involved in selling the watch when it goes on sale in April.

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), for one, won't be selling the Apple Watch when it becomes available for pre-order on April 10 and when it hits stores April 24. "We do not plan to carry it at launch," AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel told FierceWireless. AT&T was the first carrier to sell Apple's iPhone. Representatives for Sprint (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) referred questions about availability to Apple and a Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. No carriers affirmatively said they will carry the Apple Watch. 

It's unclear if Apple is restricting sales to its own stores and other luxury boutiques to control the retail experience, or if wireless carriers will eventually sell the Apple Watch. Apple representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

At a media event to discuss the watch and other Apple products, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Kevin Lync, vice president of technology at Apple, went through the device's features. They largely reiterated themes and use cases Apple first discussed when it unveiled the watch in September.

Apple said that the Watch Sport, the entry-level aluminum model, starts at $349 for the 1.5-inch version and $399 for the 1.65-inch model. The stainless steel mid-range Apple Watch will start at $549 for the 1.5-inch model and $599 for the 1.65 model, with prices ranging up to $1,049 and $1,099 depending on the style of band the devices are paired with. Apple said the luxury, 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition will start at $10,000.

Customers will be able to try on and pre-order the watch in Apple's retail stores starting April 10 in the U.S., Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan and the UK. On April 24, the watch will be available online or by reservation in Apple's retail stores and select Apple Authorized Resellers in China and Japan.

Apple did not disclose its retail plans in detail, or whether the watch will be available in any major U.S. retailers. The company said the Apple Watch will also be available to preview or try on at Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Isetan in Tokyo and Selfridges in London on April 10. The company said the watch will be available for sale on April 24 at those select department store shop-in-shops, and at boutiques in major cities across the world including Colette in Paris, Dover Street Market in London and Tokyo, Maxfield in Los Angeles and The Corner in Berlin.

Apple said that the watch will have an 18-hour battery life (likely via mixed use of apps) and customers will be able to charge the watch overnight via an inductive charge. That is actually less impressive than it sounds, as Samsung Electronics claims its Gear S smart watch gets about one to two days of typical battery life, while Pebble claims its smart watch can last between five and seven days (though Pebble's watch does not support nearly as many apps or have as an immersive experience as the Apple Watch or Gear S).

The Apple Watch pairs with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus via Bluetooth, and, as Buzzfeed notes, since the watch requires the iPhone to be nearby to perform many of its core functions, it could become an engine for new iPhone sales. Users can send messages, read email and answer calls to their Phone via the watch. The watch supports Siri, Apple's digital personal assistant, and users can dictate to the watch to reply to messages. Apple is letting third-party developers create apps for the watch. Developers can use a software tool that Apple calls "WatchKit" to extend the capabilities of notifications so that users can take actions based on the notifications on the watch.

Apple's task will be to convince customers that they need a watch, when the gadget performs many of the functions that can be accomplished via its latest iPhones, including paying for goods via Near Field Communications technology through the Appel Pay service. "There's so much hype and expectation, but if it doesn't have any real utility you're going to have critics coming out of every corner," Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University's Stern School of Business, told Bloomberg

Nevertheless, analysts thinks Apple could sell up to 14 million Apple Watch units this fiscal year, according to the average estimate of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The global market for all smartwatches could jump to 28.1 million units this year from 4.6 million in 2014, with Apple capturing 55 percent of the market, according to research firm Strategy Analytics. 

For more:
- see this release
- see this The Verge live blog
- see The Verge article
- see these two separate Bloomberg articles 
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Buzzfeed article
- see this third Bloomberg article

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