If BlackBerry services are suspended in the UAE this October local industry experts expect the result to be a boom in smartphone sales. The UAE's half-million BlackBerry users would see some of their essential services, such as e-mail and instant messaging, frozen if the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority enacts its planned suspension. If that happens, users of what is sometimes described as the "CrackBerry" would be likely to purchase other handsets to continue their e-mail and messaging habits.
"If you got used to your BlackBerry device, it's difficult to go back to something else," said Simon Simonian, a telecoms analyst with Shuaa Capital. "If it has become indispensable, you need another smartphone to replace it. As a company, if mobility is important you, you have to go for a smartphone." Competing smartphones retail between for Dh1,900 and Dh4,000, and can largely perform the same tasks as a BlackBerry.
A large share of the market could go to BlackBerry's main smartphone rival, the iPhone. Apple has had its share of troubles in the last few months following the botched launch of the iPhone 4 in the US, but the company hopes to have its connectivity issues smoothed out in time for the UAE launch which is expected in September. The iPhone has also emerged as a solid BlackBerry replacement for business users. The well-stocked iTunes App Store grants access to a wide range of tailor-made business applications, while its Microsoft Exchange Server allows secure email access.
"The BlackBerry email service is the most robust one available and the favourite one among corporations," Mr Simonian said. "But Apple has made inroads in the corporate world." The iPhone has recently faced strong competition from Google Android-enabled smartphones made by HTC, Motorola and Samsung, which also boast a large number of downloadable applications for business use. However, worries persist around the Android operating system, which is open source.
In April, it was revealed that users of Android in the UAE were unable to download essential applications because the company has yet to launch its mobile marketplace here. An alternative mobile app store called SlideME allows Android users to download some programmes, but it offers a sliver of what is available in the US and UK. Open-source systems can be more vulnerable to security issues, as applications are subject to less stringent testing. However, Google says that this also means security fixes arrive more quickly.
Nokia, a favourite of many Emiratis, has lost ground in the smartphone market to BlackBerry and Apple but remains a strong contender. More than 2.8 million Nokia handsets were sold in the country last year, figures from the technology consultancy IDC show. Nokia's most popular device is the N97, which has both a touchscreen and a sliding keyboard. It also boasts good battery life, claiming to last up to two weeks on standby.
Smartphones would also require that users sign up to a data package from Etisalat or du, the UAE's telecoms operators.