Technology retailers in the UAE ready to welcome latest gadgets

Retailers in the UAE must start making space on the shelves for a new wave of high-tech devices.

Sony’s 85-inch 4K LED TV on display at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show. MIchael Nelson / EPA
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A bendable high-definition TV, a smartphone-activated door lock and a ball-shaped camera that can be tossed in the air to take pictures were among the latest devices announced this month in Las Vegas at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

That means it is time for an annual tradition, in which tech retailers from the UAE begin clearing out products while making room for newer wares.

Certainly, some products struggled to move from store shelves last year, and manufacturers are taking action to prevent the same situation from occurring this year. Plasma televisions, for one, are on their way out among some TV makers.

Panasonic plans to pull out of this segment entirely early this year after years of steep losses within its TV division. At CES in Las Vegas, the company announced a new kind of television with 4K technology, which produces an ultra-clear picture that is four times the resolution of full high-definition video. Yet with the only model measuring 58 inches and commanding US$4,500, few consumers may ultimately be able to afford this product.

Even so, this 4K technology has garnered significant buzz at CES this year and its premium price is already starting to fall.

One of its biggest advocates — Sony — released a new suite of 4K televisions, something it had been planning for months to showcase. The company also unveiled a 4K camcorder that sells for nearly $2,000, which is down from a slightly older model released last year that retailed for $4,500.

Sony is also focused on creating higher resolution products in other areas, including music, where digital files can play songs with more detailed data embedded within. The company is pushing more consumers to purchase higher resolution CDs, DVDs and other media, while simultaneously marketing its new lineups of headphones.

“It’s a pretty exciting new category, and headphones will play a new role in it because people will want great music,” says Karol Warminiec, the marketing communications manager for Sony Canada.

Yet executives at tech retailers within the UAE are still awaiting news of some other much-anticipated gadgets, and they are hoping the products actually materialise.

Rumours about forthcoming devices from Apple, such as a smartwatch as well as an iPhone with a bigger screen, “are some of the new releases we are eagerly looking forward to,” says Ashish Panjabi, the chief operating officer of Jacky’s Electronics.

Other tech retailers, including Jumbo Electronics and JadoPado, have also cited these same two devices as among those products that are expected to be the biggest sellers this year.

“I think an iPhone 6 with a larger display could do really well,” says Omar Kassim, the founder of JadoPado.

The only catch is that Apple does not attend CES and has not yet formally announced either an iPhone 6 or a smart watch.

Still, retailers say digital accessories for the wrist will be a major sales area this year, particularly products that help track people’s health. Brands such as Nike, Jawbone and Fitbit have made an early entry into this segment in recent years, says Nadeem Khanzadah, the head of retail at Jumbo Electronics.

The Fitbit Force, for example, was announced last year and tracks steps taken, calories burned, floors climbed and sleep patterns. “All indications are it’s going to be one of our best-selling products,” says Woody Scal, chief revenue officer for Fitbit.

“People love getting feedback right on their wrists, as opposed to having to check screens somewhere else or digging something out of a pocket,” adds Mr Scal.

Some companies, including LG and Razer, are now trying to entice consumers to their own wrist-based products by creating smartwatches with health-tracking features. These devices normally answer phone calls, display the time and include sensors that record fitness-related information such as a person’s heart rate or how many calories they have burned.

“They’re already talking about sensors that you can put in your mouth that’ll measure the levels of bacteria, the quality of food you’re eating and how well you’re brushing your teeth,” says Mr Panjabi. “The sensor space will be one to watch in 2014.”

Kolibree, a tech company with offices in the United States, France and Hong Kong, has said that it will be releasing a so-called smart toothbrush that claims to analyse a person’s brushing habits. It is being programmed to display information on a smartphone about whether someone has brushed long enough and touched hard-to-reach areas, but the product is not due for release until the third quarter.

More established consumer electronics such as tablets and smartphones proved to be bestsellers at electronics stores in the UAE over the past year and are likely to lead the sales charge early this year.

Apple continued to dominate the tablet market last year, although its popularity dipped slightly during the third quarter. It fell to just less than 30 per cent, down from 33.5 per cent, according to the market research firm IHS.

Meanwhile, at other tablet makers based in Asia, including Asus, Lenovo and lesser-known companies, sales increased by more than 87 per cent during the third quarter last year compared with 2012.

In the UAE, Samsung's range of Android-based tablets has been among the best-selling devices following Apple's iPad. Its suite of smartphones, and particularly the Galaxy S4, emerged as the top-selling product at Jacky's Electronics, where it continued to do well even six months after its debut.

“Samsung has invested a lot in marketing their products in the region, and we’ve seen the demand for Android devices grow by leaps and bounds,” says Mr Panjabi. “Part of the reason for the success has been that we’ve seen people migrate from BlackBerry to Android, where Samsung has been most dominant,” he adds.

Local telecoms operators have also subsidised data costs for Android-based phones, infringing on a space once dominated by BlackBerry mobiles. That trend, retailers say, is expected to continue this year.

“BlackBerry, in general, continued to struggle given the headwinds that their business is facing,” says Mr Kassim.