Fresno’s early adapters get first look at Apple Watch

Technology fans in the Valley laid hands on the Apple Watch for the first time Friday at Fresno’s Apple Store, as the long-awaited gadget made its public debut worldwide for pre-orders.

But unlike prior Apple product launches, there was only a handful of people on hand when the store in the Fashion Fair mall opened at 10 a.m. — no long line of salivating early adopters waiting for the sleek glass doors to part. And some were there to get their computer or phone fixed, not for the Apple Watch.

It was unclear whether the lack of a crowd was the result of Apple’s plan to require reservations for a chance to try on the watch and get a hands-on demonstration, or Fresno giving a collective yawn to the gadget.

But a few folks who went online after midnight to order their watch sight unseen showed up at the crack of mid-morning, eager to see what they will now be waiting at least two weeks to get.

“I’m an early adapter for everything that’s technology related,” said David Costa of Fresno, who had the first reservation of the day at 10 a.m. at the Fresno store. “I’ve been waiting for months, since Apple announced they were making a watch, to make a reservation.”

Costa, 37, went online at 12:01 a.m. Friday and within minutes had plunked down about $400 on his credit card for the Apple Watch Sport model. But his watch isn’t scheduled to ship until May 8, and he was eager to try one on in the store.

“I haven’t worn a watch in 10 years,” he said. “This is going to bring notifications right to my wrist. I won’t have to get my phone out of my pocket anymore.”

Among the features of the watch, beyond the mundane task of telling what time it is, is the ability to alert with a vibration on the wrist when a text message, phone call or email arrives.

Key to the Apple Watch — it only works if you already have an Apple iPhone. The watch is synched with the phone, and the phone essentially tells your watch to tell you about an incoming message.

Prices for the Apple Watch start at $350 for the basic model with an aluminum case and rubberized watchband, jump to about $550 for watches with stainless-steel cases and a little bit more for a fancier bracelet, then soar from $10,000 to as much as $17,000 for the models with 18-karat gold cases.

Neither Costa nor Juan Herrera, who drove from Visalia for his 10:45 a.m. appointment, were ready to buy anything more elaborate than the basic Sport model. “I know they will be making significant improvement in later ones,” said Costa.

“I wanted to spend under $1,000, so I went with the Sport,” Herrera said. “I don’t want to spend so much on a first-generation product.”

A few others showed up right before the store opened and were able to get a walk-up demonstration without a reservation. They included a 39-year-old, self-proclaimed “huge Apple fan” from Clovis who wouldn’t give his name because he called in sick from work for a first-day look at the new watches.

“I was impressed with it; I’m definitely going to buy one,” he said. “But I thought there would be a lot more people here. Maybe it’s because people in Fresno aren’t big Apple buyers.”

Tom and Tina Kell of Coarsegold also showed up to get an early look. “It’s the debut and I wanted to see it,” Tom Kell said as he waited for the store to open. Tina Kell said she wanted to try one on and see “if it’s something where I won’t kill the battery too quickly.”

After a pre-opening pep talk at the rear of the store, a phalanx of Apple employees greeted Costa, Herrera, the Kells and others with applause as they entered the store to get their first look at the watch.

About 20 minutes later, after playing with the watch, Costa said he had no regrets. “I tried on the one I bought last night sight unseen and I couldn’t be happier about my decision,” he said. “The nicer, more expensive ones were very nice, but at this point I’m happy I decided to go with the entry-level model.”

Costa added that since Friday is the first day of pre-orders — the first watches aren’t slated to be delivered to customers until at least April 24 — he wasn’t surprised at the lack of a crowd.

“I’ve been here for every product launch, and there have always been lines,” he said. “I think everyone knew that the Apple Watch isn’t available today. If it had been available to purchase today, I think there would have been a big line.”