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iPhone 6S, 6S Plus land in fast-growing India market

Consumers in India, a critical battleground for smartphone makers, can now buy Apple's latest phones.

The new iPhone 6S lineup will now try to woo buyers in India. CNET

Apple's new iPhones will now battle for consumers in the world's fastest-growing smartphone region.

Starting Friday, the iPhone 6S is available in India with a starting price of 62,000 rupees ($955). The iPhone 6S Plus starts at 72,000 rupees ($1,109). The new iPhones kicked off with a midnight sale at an Apple Store in Mumbai.

A late Thursday tweet by Apple CEO Tim Cook thanked "all our customers in India who queued at midnight for the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus!"

India, with a population of more than 1.2 billion people, is becoming a critical battleground for smartphone makers. It became the world's fastest growing smartphone market last year, research firm IDC said in November of 2014. And it's expected to surpass the US as the world's second-largest smartphone market behind China in 2017, Strategy Analytics said in July.

The Chinese smartphone market has become saturated with 95 percent ownership, leaving little room for first-time buyers. India's smartphone penetration is 30 percent, leaving ample room for growth, according to that July report.

But Apple faces challenges in India. Though iPhone sales jumped by 93 percent in the region during this year's second quarter, Apple ekes out just a 2 percent share of India's smartphone market, Reuters said in July. The new iPhone may just be too expensive for consumers in India. Much of the growth in iPhone sales so far has come from older models, Reuters noted. Smartphone players like Samsung and local vendor Micromax can sell phones at a cheaper price, winning over more buyers.

Apple has increased its marketing efforts to build its presence in India. It's cut more deals with distributors to expand availability of the iPhone and offer more appealing financing plans. The company is also looking to open a series of small stores.

Apple has actually been preparing for a "blockbuster opening" of the new iPhones in India, the Times of India said in September. The new phones are expected to account for around 60 percent of total sales in India for the final quarter of 2015.

Beyond India, the new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are traveling to Malaysia, South Africa and a few other countries this Friday, followed by South Korea and the Ukraine on October 23. Apple plans to offer the new iPhones in more than 130 markets across the world by year's end.