SYDNEY/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus hit stores on Friday, with dozens of people - and a robot - queueing in Sydney to kick off a global sales cycle that will be scrutinized for signs of how much juice Apple Inc's marquee product has left.
Analysts expect a record 12 million to 13 million phones to fly off the shelves in the first weekend, up from more than 10 million last year when the hugely successful iPhone 6's launch was delayed in China, the world's biggest smartphone market.
Among the first to pick up the new iPhone 6s in a cold, rainy Sydney was a telepresence robot named Lucy, operated by marketing executive Lucy Kelly.
"I obviously have my work and other things to attend to and can't spend two days lining up so my boss at work suggested I take one of the robots down and use it to stand in my place,"she said via an iPad mounted on top of the wheeled robot. "I love new gadgets. The new camera is meant to be amazing."
Fans around the world have camped out for days prior to the release, and Apple has said pre-orders suggested sales were on pace to beat last year's first-weekend performance.
Sales of iPhones accounted for nearly two-thirds of Apple's revenue in the latest quarter. First released in 2007, it is Apple's best-selling device to date.
"The stage is set for Apple to show year-over-year growth over the Herculean iPhone 6 sales," FBR Capital Markets senior analyst Daniel Ives said.
After a dramatic redesign last year, which included an enlarged screen and the addition of mobile payments, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus boast more modest improvements.
The phones, which are the same size as last year's models, feature improved cameras and 3D touch, a display technology based on a "Taptic Engine" that responds according to how hard users press their screens.
"The rumors are true - the battery capacity is down a bit, and we suspect the reduced battery size is to accommodate the Taptic Engine," repair firm iFixit, which opened up an iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, said on its website. Apple has said battery life is unchanged in the new phones.
The new iPhones use chips made by Qualcomm, Avago Technologies Ltd, Qorvo's TriQuint Semiconductor and RF Micro Devices, Toshiba Corp, Texas Instruments and Skyworks Solutions, among others.
"Today is like Christmas for pocket film makers all around the world because the iPhone 6S Plus is like the newest, greatest toy we have to play with," said Jason van Genderen, who makes movies on smart phones in Sydney. "I've never seen anything like it - it's astounding. The camera craft has now come up to story telling craft."
Apple has said that just a fraction of its customers have upgraded to the iPhone 6, suggesting there is plenty of room to grow this year.
Lackluster offerings this year from rival smartphone manufacturer Samsung Electronics also will help Apple stand out in the marketplace, analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy wrote in an email.
"Over the long haul, the 6s will eclipse the 6 as Apple is even more competitive versus Samsung in emerging regions and is gaining share in traditional regions," Moorhead said. "Samsung didn't bring a whole lot of compelling features to consumers with their new lines of phones."
The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus goes on sale on Friday in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.