UAE gets smart when it comes to mobile phones

Smartphone penetration rates in the UAE are among the highest in the world at 43.7 per cent according to a recent survey

BlackBerry is the dominant player in the UAE smartphone market with a share of 51 per cent.
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A higher proportion of mobile phone users in the UAE own a top-of-the-range gadget such as an Apple iPhone or a BlackBerry than anywhere else on Earth.

An Arab Advisors Group (AAG) survey found that smartphones, the high-tech internet-connected handsets that give users access to email, social networking and mobile applications - make up 43.7 per cent of mobile phones in the UAE, compared with a 25 per cent average rate for countries elsewhere in the world included in the survey.

"Broadly speaking there's a strong take-up of smartphones in the UAE," said Matthew Reed, a telecommunications analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

"It is a relatively affluent market. There are some advanced telecommunications infrastructures, both operators [du and Etisalat] have 3G and HSPA networks [that offer mobile internet services], so those are some of the enabling factors," he said. The trend has provided a big boost for mobile phone vendors across the country.

Mahmoud Ezzat, who works at Asalala Mobile Phones, a small shop in Abu Dhabi, said his store sold about 13 smartphones every day, something he could never have previously envisioned.

"About two years ago, all the shops thought nobody will use these smartphones. Now, everybody wants one," Mr Ezzat said.

He said that of the devices he sold every day, the majority comprised Research In Motion's (RIM's) BlackBerrys, which were especially popular among Emiratis.

The AAG survey said BlackBerry was the dominant player in the UAE's smartphone market, with a 51 per cent share. Apple's iPhone follows with 31 per cent, while Nokia and Android phones make up the balance.

The popularity of RIM's handsets comes as no surprise, with the UAE a commercial hub for the region and a large number of business users accessing their email accounts on the move.

The free BlackBerry Messenger service is also popular among customers keen to avoid paying SMS fees.

But BlackBerry's grip on the local market will not remain, according to analysts who forecast that Google Android phones will dominate in the next five years.

The Android phone system leads the global smartphone market, being present on 39.5 per cent of devices such as Samsung and HTC phones. That number is forecast to grow to 45 per cent by 2016, according to IDC research.

And countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where there is a 54 per cent smartphone penetration rate according to the AAG survey, are also set to adopt that trend, Mr Reed said.

"At a global and regional level, we're forecasting Android to be the biggest OS [mobile operating system present on phones] over the next few years," he said.

"The trend is in Android's favour over the longer term."

Nevertheless, the growing adoption of a range of devices, whether they be BlackBerry or Android, will continue to drive up smartphone penetration rates in the Emirates.

Informa Telecoms and Media predicts a 71 per cent smartphone penetration rate, with 3,752,100 handsets owned in the UAE by 2016.