Smartphones invade the Gulf
Most mobile users in the Middle East and North Africa will have a smartphone by this time next year, forecasts the market research firm TNS.
According to the firm's Mobile Life study, 46 percent of mobile users in the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel are currently using an iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or other smart devices. That is the same proportion as in North America, with which the Middle East and North Africa jointly ranks as the world's most smartphone-savvy region.
Globally, the average is 30 percent of users, TNS said. That is set to grow further over the next year, said James Fergusson, the global head of the digital and technology practice at TNS.
"The majority of mobile-phone users in the Middle East will be using smartphones by this time next year," said Mr. Fergusson. "Smartphones [are] rapidly replacing feature phones ... That penetration will increase again dramatically over the next 12 months," he added.
Factors behind this include the affluence of markets such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the urban population and the declining cost of handsets, said Mr. Fergusson.
Smartphones are now available for as little as US$80 (Dh293.85), and are forecast to further decline in price. "By the end of this year that will be down to somewhere around $60 to $70, if not lower," said Mr. Fergusson. "They're really getting into the emerging middle class ... in markets such as Egypt."
Higher adoption of smartphones is good news for Middle East telecommunications operators, which have been hit by greater competition and the rise of free calling and SMS services.
The average revenue per user for mobile customers has been steadily falling in several regional markets, according to the Arab Advisors Group. The average mobile-phone user in the UAE spent US$34 a month in 2009, compared with $30 last year. Mr. Fergusson said mobile-data subscriptions could help stem declining revenues.
"Traditionally the cash cow for mobile operators has been voice calls. "What we see is the value of voice calls declining," he said. "So it's absolutely critical that operators across the world increase their data subscriptions. And the rapid adoption of smartphones facilitates this."
The TNS Mobile Life study surveyed mobile use among 48,000 people in 58 countries. It found that location-based services - such as maps and the friends locator service such as Foursquare - are set to grow the most.
One area of growth in the Middle East is offers and discounts that target mobile phone users according to their location, Mr. Fergusson said.