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
“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