Gitex, the Middle East's largest technology exhibition, came to a close yesterday. Several hundred thousand visitors attended the show at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Some of them might have left wondering if the exhibition and convention had lost some of their pizzazz.
The 32-year-old Gulf Information Technology Exhibition does not appear to be pulling in the big names these days, and is increasingly being overshadowed by other events in the region and elsewhere.
This year, about 130,000 visitors and 3,500 suppliers from 144 countries took part. Those are impressive numbers. But where were Apple and Google? These are arguably the two most important technology companies in the field.
Previously, the event was an important platform for showcasing new products, making global announcements and striking big deals in the region. In 2009, Microsoft launched the Windows 7 Operating System (OS) at Gitex. This year, however, we only got a preview of Windows 8, the new OS intended to bring Microsoft back to its former glory. The official worldwide launch is October 26, a Friday and the first day of Eid Al Adha. (Perhaps the Middle East is not so relevant after all to Microsoft? One can only guess why it chose the date.)
The bigger let-down in this regard, though, was Nokia's presentation. The Finnish company had a substantial stand at the event to showcase its latest Lumia phone that runs on the Windows 8 OS.
But since Windows 8 has not been officially launched, visitors were able to only touch the phone, not play with it as you would expect at such an event. It was strictly "look, but do not touch" - perhaps the technological equivalent of attempting to read a comic book still in its plastic wrapper.
On the other hand,there were headphones aplenty.
50 Cent launched his SMS Audio headphones to rival those of Dr Dre's Beats. The battle for the Middle East ears has begun. Even Ferrari was in on the action. But, hmm, maybe cue a host of hearing problems among the region's youth?
Gone, at least for now, are the days of big-name chief executives giving keynote speeches, addressing topical issues, launching and announcing the latest in hardware, software and services. These have been replaced by local managers announcing their commitment to the Middle East and the growth potential of the region. Worthy, but not so exciting.
Two years ago, Research In Motion's co-chief Jim Balsillie came to Gitex to announce the launch of BlackBerry's latest phone amid the BlackBerry Messenger furore that the company suffered in several markets, including the UAE. Mr Balsillie may not have addressed the BBM issues directly on stage, but at least he was around to be questioned on the matter.
This year, by contrast, the biggest-name speaker was Jonathan Labin, manager of Facebook's Middle East and North Africa region, extolling the virtues of social data. The audience at Gitex did not seem to need persuading about this, though.
Even Google decided to forego a stand this year, only contributing by lending speakers to some of the panel sessions. By comparison, at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Google installed a playground slide and handed out free ice cream and smoothies while showcasing all its products and services to visitors eager to get a first-hand account and insight into the technological wonders of the company.
Gitex, by steering the official exhibition towards the enterprise market, became the older, more staid brother of Gitex Shopper, now set to take place twice a year to meet considerable demand and popularity. The United Nations ITU Telecom World conference did not help matters, either.
It ran parallel to Gitex, not in partnership with the event. And the topics discussed at ITU roundtables and sessions turned out more interesting and stimulating. Government ministers, chief executives and innovators were present to give insights on matters ranging from ownership of online data to the realities of cyber-warfare.
Here's hoping the next edition of Gitex manages to return it to its former self.