From enterprise to the masses: smartphones win hearts of Arab mobile users

Smartphone sales and development thriving in the Middle East

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From enterprise to the masses: smartphones win hearts of Arab mobile users The regional smartphone ecosystem is diverse and thriving, says Dahabra.
By Staff Writer Published  November 28, 2011

The recent demise of technology guru Steve Jobs reminded the world just how vast the smartphone empire has become barely five years after the introduction of the iconic iPhone in 2007. Today, multi-purpose smartphones are pulling in more usage rates than personal computers. In fact, IT market intelligence firm IDC reports that global smartphone sales overtook PC sales for the first time in history in Q4 2010, shipping at 100.9 million units compared to around 92.1 million for computers. This is reflective of how the line between the functionality and appeal of smartphones and mini hand-held computers is rapidly blurring.

Mobility phenom

The idea of owning a device that combines the functions of a mobile phone and a personal digital assistant (PDA) has definitely taken the world by storm. IDC predicts that 472 million smartphones will be shipped in 2011 year, representing a phenomenal year-on-year annual growth as more consumers embrace the technology.

In the Middle East, a region with a predominantly young, affluent and tech-savvy population, smartphones represent the fastest growing and most lucrative segment of the mobile handset market. Sales of smartphones are believed to have grown by more than 40% last year and the momentum is expected to continue due to vendor price dips influenced by improving economies of scale. Smartphone penetration is poised to grow by a solid 11% over the next years in the UAE and Saudi Arabia in particular.

The UAE is currently the hotbed for mobile phone applications development in the Middle East, controlling a commanding 60% share of the regional market. The country's well-developed information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and its status a consumer electronics hub have made it a preferred destination for ICT investors, developers, and manufacturers. Mobile phone applications developers are capitalizing on the huge popularity and adoption of smartphones in the UAE to introduce more innovative and region-specific services.

"The UAE's smartphone ecosystem is growing by leaps and bounds. On one hand we are seeing a steady stream of the top devices due to the country's advanced commercial and logistics capabilities. On the other we see eager consumers who are always hungry for the latest and best gadgets and want applications that fit their lifestyle, culture and tastes. The Emirates is a microcosm of the swift evolution of the region's smartphone market and the way it's handling the sector's growth is a good model for Arab states to follow," said Bashar Dahabra, founder and CEO,

Wanted: value-added, a wireless information and application provider serving the MENA markets, says that demand for advanced smartphone technologies complemented by high-quality services will continue to exponentially grow in the UAE and across the region. The company has been focusing on its own Mobile Value Added Services, particularly in the non-voice segment, to support the rapid growth of the smartphone sector. Among its recent releases is the Al Dawri iPhone application that provides updates on the Saudi, Italian, Spanish and English premier football leagues. The app has become the most popular in the sports category and tenth overall in the Saudi market. Aside from iOS, caters to other mobile platforms such as BlackBerry OS, Android and J2ME as well.

"The diversity of smartphone use in the region has kept us quite busy developing applications ranging from audio and video streaming to social networking and prayer timings. Nowadays users expect these to be standard features in their phones, so there's a lot of pressure on vendors to provide them which means more business for software and service developers. Moreover, the market is not limited to a few platforms such as iOS and BlackBerry OS. Other brands such as Nokia, HTC and Samsung have a strong following too. We also have to cater to a broad spectrum of users from various age groups, with different spending levels," added Dahabra.

Remember ‘The Simon?'

In 1994, The IBM Simon Personal Communicator - the precursor to the modern smartphone - made its global debut as a device that acted as a mobile phone, pager, PDA and fax machine. It even had a touchscreen for dialing phone numbers.  The Simon measured 8 x 2.5 x 1.5 inches, weighed a heavy 510 grams, and had an introductory price of USD 900. In comparison, the iPhone 4S measures at 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3 mm and weighs in at 140 grams, and at a cost of USD 300 for the basic unit offers a slew of hi-tech features including an 8-megapixel camera, digital GPS and a voice-controlled assistant.

The smartphone has gone a long way from being a novelty device for enterprise-specific use to a must-have entertainment, productivity and communication package.'s dedicated mobile application development team is hard at work ensuring that software and services befit the smartphone's colorful and triumphant journey to the mass markets.

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