Etisalat developing 'mobile wallet' iPhone app

Fancy settling your Etisalat bill, sending cash to friends and paying parking fees using your iPhone? Soon there'll be an app for that.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Ð Jan 26: iPhone 3GS advertisement at the Etisalat outlet at Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Stock *** Local Caption ***  PS2601- IPHONE02.jpg
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Fancy settling your Etisalat bill, sending cash to friends and paying parking fees using your iPhone? Soon there'll be an app for that.

The UAE telecommunications company is developing a new iPhone application for its customers that will serve as a mobile wallet, allowing subscribers to store credit card information to pay for a variety of services.

"Our next [iPhone] release will include bill payments, wallet management, all sorts of stuff we're doing for mobile commerce," said Rashed al Abbar, the director of mobile commerce services for Etisalat.

"We don't have a specific time in developing it but yes, it's in our roadmap … I'm pushing our IT and developers to come up with this soon."

Etisalat's new iPhone app came to light ahead of the annual Gitex technology expo in Dubai that opens today, where mobile applications will be a prominent topic.

Apple recorded its 1 billionth download 10 months after launching the iTunes Apps store and observers predicted the market could generate US$3 billion (Dh11.01bn) in sales for the company and apps developers this year.

Several companies including Samsung, Nokia and Microsoft intend to make several key announcements about apps during Gitex.

Samsung plans to use the event to launch its Galaxy Tab, a tablet device similar to Apple's iPad but incorporating Google's Android operating system, a company spokesman says.

Microsoft will reportedly demonstrate its Kinect motion-detector gaming system for the Xbox at Gitex, as well as Windows Mobile 7, its operating system geared to compete with the iPhone and BlackBerry.

Mobile apps will be a big topic at an area reserved for regional internet start-up businesses, a first for the technology event.

Past Gitex expos have catered mainly to large multinational companies but the entrepreneurship group TIE Dubai and Nokia have teamed up to promote some of the companies many expo attendees could miss.

As with each Gitex over the past several years, Etisalat and du are expected to announce moves such as mobile phone promotions andexclusive content deals.

Etisalat has already released a number of different mobile apps, including a Yellow Pages directory and one that informs of Etisalat's business, promotional offers and retail outlets.

The other mobile operator in the UAE, du, has not released any dedicated apps but has developed one for its digital portal Anayou for the iPhone and BlackBerry interfaces.

Etisalat customers can already use their mobiles to make bill payments through a short code interface but an iPhone app will allow the operator to provide more functions, such as finding the nearest service kiosk to a user's location.

"That's why we wanted to cover everybody first and then tackle different user interfaces such as iPhone, BlackBerry and [Nokia's] Symbian," Mr al Abbar said.

He said the operator was in talks with the Roads and Transport Authority to provide a mobile app to use in Dubai's parking system.

The app could find the nearest car park, store car information and make voucher payments with the click of a button.

Etisalat has other initiatives in the pipeline, which include making remittances and cash payments using the swipe of a handset.

The operator is testing an attachment for the iPhone that will let its users make payments by placing their mobiles at a sensor connected to a cash register.

The technology, called near-field communication (NFC), is being widely deployed by Etisalat this year. But the iPhone does not have a NFC chip so it will need a dongle.

Jim Balsillie, the co-chief executive of the BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, will make a rare keynote address tomorrow morning at Gitex - the first time an RIM executive will make a formal appearance in the Emirates since the company's dispute with the UAE telecoms authority.

Other notable speakers at the conference include Randi Zuckerberg, the sister of the Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and the website's marketing initiatives manager, and Joi Ito, the chief executive of Creative Commons.