iPhone lacks video feature
Emirates launch New version of phone does not carry heavily billed free application David George-Cosh The latest edition of the iPhone does not carry Apple's free video calls application in the UAE, a feature similar to the banned Skype service. Etisalat and du, the UAE's telecommunications operators, launched the iPhone 4 at official retailers yesterday, but the device did not have Apple's heavily touted FaceTime application installed.
FaceTime is one of the features incorporated into the latest iPhone and iPod Touch models elsewhere. It allows users to make free video calls using a front-facing camera over a wireless internet connection. Representatives from Apple and Arab Business Machines, the US computer giant's official distributor in the Middle East, could not be reached for comment. Khalifa al Shamsi, the vice president of marketing for consumer products at Etisalat, said the company was still in talks with Apple over providing FaceTime to its users in the UAE.
"Normally such launches are controlled by Apple. Currently we are in discussions with them about this feature in particular," Mr al Shamsi said. "It's a UAE-level discussion." The marketing team at du also confirmed via its official Twitter website that FaceTime was not available on the new iPhones. A senior executive with one of the UAE's telecoms operators, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Apple omitted FaceTime in the UAE to avoid any complications that might halt sales of the devices, particularly if BlackBerry services are suspended as expected next month.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) restricts internet calling through applications such as Skype unless they are offered through a licensed operator. Although FaceTime works through a wireless internet connection, it can be used only once a phone call between two iPhone or iPod Touch users is made. "Apple is being over-cautious about this," the executive said. "The regulator has not told us anything and I think Apple is taking their own interpretation of the regulation of the UAE."
Asked on Thursday if the TRA had banned FaceTime from iPhone devices in the UAE in advance of the launch, a TRA spokeswoman said the regulator "does not comment on rumours". The spokeswoman also confirmed there had been no advance in talks with Research In Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry, and said the decision to suspend its services on October 11 remained final. Jean Witthoft, a teacher based in Abu Dhabi, bought an iPhone 4 yesterday morning at Etisalat's Marina Mall store. She was surprised to find it did not have the FaceTime feature, she said.
"What's the big deal about being able to see someone if you're paying for the call anyway?" Ms Witthoft asked. The FaceTime feature was one of the main reasons she bought the phone, she said. "My daughter has one in the US and we just bought one to talk to her from here." The iPhone 4 sells from Dh2,049 (US$557), with prices rising according to the length of the service contract. The FaceTime application is also lacking on iPhones on sale in Qatar, it was confirmed last night.
"We are working closely with Apple to resolve the issue," said Lana Khachan, a spokeswoman for Vodafone Qatar. "Vodafone Qatar would like to assure its customers that we are treating this matter as urgent. We will keep customers posted on any developments." FaceTime is also not featured on Apple's websites in Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia, but it was still unclear yesterday if the application will be available. The iPhone has not yet gone on sale in any of those countries.
Back at Abu Dhabi's Marina Mall, Badr al Suwadi, an analyst with the Abu Dhabi Government, said the absence of the FaceTime application would not deter him from buying the handset. "There are many features about the iPhone that I preferred, such as downloading applications," Mr al Suwadi said. However, iPhone 4 models available through unofficial electronic retailers on the UAE's grey market do have the FaceTime feature installed. It is estimated that about 31,000 iPhone devices were sold in the UAE last year, according to IDC, a technology research firm.
The new iPhone model is Apple's fastest-selling edition of the smartphone since it entered the mobile market in 2007. It sold more than 3 million units in the first month it was available last June, despite an engineering glitch that affected the iPhone's antenna. The success of the iPhone and iPad tablet pushed Apple's stock close to an all-time high on the NASDAQ stock exchange on Friday, with shares trading at $292.32.
Updated: September 26, 2010 04:00 AM