Apple to kick off Watch retail sales by June 18

Apple has nearly eliminated the backlog in Apple Watch orders, and plans to start selling some models in its retail stores within two weeks.

Apple today said that it has nearly eliminated the backlog in Apple Watch orders, and would start selling some models in its retail stores within two weeks, or by June 18.

"We're making great progress with the backlog of Apple Watch orders, and we thank our customers for their patience," said Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operations officer, in a statement. "All orders placed through May, with [one] exception, will ship to customers within two weeks. At that time, we'll also begin selling some models in our Apple Retail Stores."

The exception to the ship-within-two-weeks, said Williams, was the $1,099 42mm Apple Watch in space gray stainless steel with a black link band.

Since Apple began taking orders on April 10, the wearable has been in short supply, with weeks-long delays before shipping. That's significantly better than early in the pre-order stretch, when customers who booked a Watch were told they wouldn't see them until late May or even June.

Orders placed today for the least-expensive line -- the Apple Watch Sport -- will ship in two to three weeks, according to the Apple website.

The tight inventory -- among other factors -- forced Apple to depart from its usual practice of selling new products in both its own retail outlets and online. Instead, Apple mandated an online-only policy, with models available at retail only for display and fitting.

Although some analysts speculated that Apple was shifting its retail strategy to more showroom, less salesroom, Angela Ahrendts, who leads all retail sales, disputed that in late April, saying then that both the Apple Watch and the new 12-in. Retina MacBook were "unique situations" that would not become the new norm.

The 12-in. MacBook has also been in short supply, with current orders backlogged three to five weeks.

Today, Apple said nothing about whether in-store purchases would be accompanied by the short training session the company required for those who ordered a Watch online and either picked it up at a store or received it at their home or workplace.

Watch sales will expand from the current nine markets to another seven on June 26, Apple also said. The additional countries included Italy, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and Taiwan.