Holiday sales of Apple’s latest smartphone, the iPhone 4S, are unlikely to undercut Blackberry’s market share in the UAE, retailers in the Gulf state have said.
Sales of the BlackBerry handset have remained strong despite a service blackout in October that left millions of customers worldwide without email or instant messages, retailers said.
UAE telco Etisalat last week said the iPhone 4S was available to pre-order via its website.
“Blackberry is definitely more popular than the iPhone in the UAE, and that’s primarily due the wide spread adoption of Blackberry messenger,” said Omar Abushaban, general manager for Plug-Ins. Blackberry has 40 percent share of smartphone sales at the retail chain compared with iPhone’s 30 percent stake.
“Apple has introduced iMessaging as part of the iOS 5 upgrade. This allows for free messaging between iPhones and iPads; similar to Blackberry devices. [But] this will take a long time to take hold with customers, since BBM is so well established,” he said.
Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of BlackBerry, is seeking out a larger slice of emerging market sales to sustain its growth. The company saw sales outside the US, UK and Canada jump 38 percent in the third quarter to $2.33bn, helped by its presence in the Middle East and Africa.
But analysts feared the company faced irreparable damage to its brand reputation after its two-day service outage and sluggish response to customer complaints. RIM offered users more than $100 of free games in compensation for the blackout, but industry experts said it might not be enough to dissuade users from switching to Apple, following the launch of the iPhone 4S.
But distributors in the UAE say Blackberry continues to have the upper hand in part thanks to its popularity among corporate users.
“There have been a couple of things which have kept RIM strong,” said Ashish Panjabi, COO of Jacky’s, where Blackberry outsells the iPhone at a ratio of 2:1.
“First is the packages, the economical data plans for Blackberry at the moment…You can get the package for AED285 and that’s all you pay for unlimited data, I think that’s something that sways a lot of people [particularly business travellers].
“If you speak to an iPhone user or an android user, when they’re travelling they switch off their data, because it’s way too expensive. You end up paying per kilobyte. [On this plan] it’s not uncommon to get a bill for AED1,000-AED6,000.”
He added: “The second major factor of course is Blackberry messenger, which has been a lot more popular here than in many other parts of the world. I think one of the reasons for that is you have a lot of expatriates. BBM is a fairly economical way to keep in touch with family at home.”
Matthew Reed, a telecoms analyst at at Dubai-based Informa, said Blackberry might continue to dominate the market in the short-term, but anticipated a drag on revenues in the future.
“Global trends in the smartphone market, including the strength of iPhone and the growing popularity of Google's Android platform, are likely to affect BlackBerry's market position in time."