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Lines start forming for iPhone 6S days before launch

People have already started camping out for Apple's newest smartphone before the gadgets hit store shelves Friday.

Huong Dinh (left), Viet Nguyen (second from left) and other neighbors started camping out for the iPhone at Apple's downtown San Francisco store on Tuesday evening. Shara Tibken/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- The new iPhone doesn't hit store shelves until Friday, but some eager buyers have already started lining up.

Six Vietnamese people, who say they're neighbors in San Francisco, have camped out near the downtown Apple Store since about 6 p.m. PT on Tuesday -- more than two days before the iPhone actually goes on sale. Apple Stores across the world open at 8 a.m. local time Friday for people who've reserved their iPhones or who didn't order online and want to be among the first people to get their hands on Apple's latest smartphone.

Viet Nguyen, a 73-year-old Vietnamese man from San Francisco, and Huong Dinh, a 48-year-old woman, were the first people in line at San Francisco's downtown store. Both planned to buy two models apiece of the 64GB iPhone 6S Plus in rose gold. They and four others slept overnight on the street as they wait for the iPhone to launch.

"I'm interested in the new phone, the new color," Dinh said. Already an iPhone 6 owner, Dinh said she planned to buy a 6S Plus for herself and her daughter, while her husband will buy her old iPhone 6.

While San Francisco already had buyers in line, Apple's flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan didn't have anyone waiting for the iPhone 6S as of Wednesday afternoon.

Apple on September 9 unveiled the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, its newest smartphones, which feature faster chips, better cameras and new screen technology. Pricing starts at $199 under a two-year contract, and Apple also offers a new upgrade program that lets users update their iPhones every year by paying a monthly installment.

The new devices largely look identical to last year's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus though with stronger aluminum bodies and the option for a rose-gold model. The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus incorporate 3D Touch, which recognizes different levels of pressure on the touchscreen. They also have new camera technology, including a better front-facing camera for selfies and a "Live Photos" feature that captures three seconds of motion before and after a picture is taken to display a sort of short video of the photo.

Having a successful iPhone launch is vital for Apple. The company's iPad business continues to struggle, and its Apple Watch hasn't yet become a major moneymaker. Apple now generates more than two-thirds of its revenue from its smartphone, which means it's vital to get customers interested in the newest iPhones. The iPhone 6S has a high bar to clear for success. The iPhone 6, released in 2014, has become Apple's best-selling device ever.

Both 6S models will be available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Singapore, the UK and the US on Friday. They also launch in China the same day -- a contrast from last year when the world's largest smartphone market had to wait nearly a month for the iPhone. China became Apple's biggest iPhone market in the March quarter, and the country is on track to become Apple's largest market overall.

Eight years after Apple launched the first iPhone, many people who line up days in advance for the device aren't there because they're fans, experts say. Many sell the device overseas or are sponsored by app makers or other companies that want the gadget. It's become especially common for people to buy iPhones to ship to China, which has faced a lag time in getting the new smartphone. But this year, China will have the iPhone on day one. Other countries, like Vietnam will not.

Other people wait in line because they weren't able to immediately preorder the device and found they'd have to wait weeks to receive an order.

"There's definitely a subset of the people standing in lines for new iPhones who are buying them to ship overseas -- that's particularly the case in major port and border cities," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. "However, it's only a subset, and the vast majority of people are buying them for themselves or family members."

Nguyen, the 73-year-old man camping out for the iPhone, denied that he was planning to sell his phones but said he was purchasing a 64GB iPhone 6S Plus in rose gold for himself and an identical version for his sister in Vietnam.

"I like pink," he said. "If you're first in line, second in line, maybe third, you can get pink."

--Paula Vasan contributed to this report.

Updated at 1:10 p.m. PT to add information about New York store.