After a quiet summer, the technology industry will soon play host to globe-trotting chief executives, high-profile product launches and the ongoing corporate soap opera that is the IT business. The biggest technology conference in the region is just over two weeks away from hitting Dubai. Gitex Technology Week, which opens on October 19, has a reputation for size, with the event occupying the entire sprawling mass of the Dubai World Trade Centre. Most visitors say the biggest challenge of the event is cutting through the clutter: making it past the noise and the giveaways to find the truly interesting things that make the whole week worthwhile.
Like any crowded trade show, the ratio of junk to value is high. But among the hundreds of stands filled with salesmen eager to talk about their revolutionary new printer cables and accounting software, there are always a few gems. Gitex has, on occasion, been the platform for the announcement of major industry deals, such as the 2007 acquisition of SAP Arabia by its German parent group. There will always be a superstar international executive or two, just begging to be networked with. And for gadget lovers, the halls chirp and pulsate with an entire biosphere of toys. Unless a bigger name is revealed in the coming days, the most prominent global leader at this year's event will be Scott McNealy, the chairman and co-founder of Sun Microsystems.
In the young, fast-moving technology sector, Mr McNealy is a veteran of almost unsurpassed proportions, having been at the top of Sun for almost 25 years. His advocacy of networked computing and open-source software preceded their widespread adoption by almost a decade, and he remains one of the sharpest and most influential minds in the industry. Sun's Middle East business has been turning over at a healthy - but not remarkable - rate, and the company certainly has room to grow here. Whether Mr McNealy's visit is to reveal a grand new plan for the region or to simply spread the hi-tech gospel, his public appearances will certainly be highlights of the week.
One to watch this year will be the first appearance of the computing group HP, following its acquisition of the American technology services company EDS. The UAE's largest local technology company, Injazat Data Systems, is a joint venture between EDS and Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Development Company; how HP plans on approaching its newfound stake in the country's biggest and fastest growing IT business remains to be seen.
Executives from HP and Injazat have stayed very quiet since the deal was finalised in late August, saying only that an announcement on the future of the partnership would be made in the coming weeks. Almost 25,000 people, most of them EDS employees, will lose their jobs as part of the acquisition, with almost half the job losses happening in locations outside the US. With Injazat still using plenty of EDS talent in its managerial and technical ranks, and responsible for some of the biggest outsourcing deals in the UAE, HP's approach to the partnership is a big deal for the industry.
Although Gitex presents a great stage for the drama and politics of the tech business, it is also a runway where the hottest new gadgets are paraded to buyers and the public. And for lovers of new toys, this year's highlights will be all about the mobile. One such event will be the product launch by Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian company that has muscled its way into the smartphone market with its BlackBerry line of email-enabled mobile phones.
While the BlackBerry has become a corporate icon, the company is yet to break into the mainstream market, where stylish design and entertaining features rule the day. RIM had long been rumoured to be developing an iPhone-style touch screen device for the consumer market, and finally revealed the new phone to the US market last month. The new touch screen Blackberry, known as the Storm, is currently only available in the US, tied to the Verizon network. A Middle East launch at Gitex would certainly shake up the market - with Apple yet to secure significant distribution deals in the region, the market for a great touch screen phone remains wide open.
Another mobile maker that will make waves at Gitex is Taiwan's HTC, which will also be hosting a launch event at the conference. Until recently, HTC was a contract manufacturer of no-name phones that was rebranded by partners like the Dubai-based I-mate. But the company has stepped out into the spotlight in a big way in the past year, launching the successful Diamond touch screen phone, and most prominently, partnering with Google to build the first mobile based on the new open-source Android mobile operating system.
The chance to play with an Android phone for the first time will have plenty of mobile lovers lining up at HTC's stand. But even better would be an announcement on a Middle East launch for the device, which like the BlackBerry Storm would enter a market that has so far been neglected by Apple. Of course, the announcement that would blow both of these out of the water would be Etisalat or du revealing that they would be bringing the real thing to the UAE. Both companies have reportedly been in negotiations with Apple regarding the iPhone, and both say they will be making news at Gitex. But don't hold your breath on that one.