DUBAI // What is less useful in the UAE than in the United States and Europe, but costs more than twice as much?
Answer: the latest Apple iPhone on the grey market.
No Middle East release date has been set for the iPhone 4S, but gadget lovers are undeterred. "We had one arrive here on Saturday and it was sold for Dh6,500 the same day to a French businessman," said Rumshed KK at Micro City in the Mall of the Emirates.
"They aren't stocked here, but if a customer requests one I can have it here in two hours. It's very expensive because of a lack of supply, but that isn't putting people off."
The same phone overseas, where it was launched on Friday, would cost about Dh2,500.
Prices on the grey market through third-party sellers in the UAE range from Dh6,000 for the entry-level 16GB model to Dh9,750 for the 64GB version.
The new model has been upgraded with the faster A5 dual-core processor, a new 8-megapixel camera and an updated operating system with the ability to store content in Apple's new iCloud.
However, the grey-market phones lack some of the functionality of those sold in the US. The key selling point of the iPhone 4S is Siri, a voice-recognition assistant that allows users to send text messages, schedule meetings, make phone calls, and even ask questions through voice commands.
The software is still in its beta - or testing - phase, and not all the functions are universally available.
Buyers in the UK and Canada, for example, have reported that Siri does not allow for mapping or local searches as it does in the US.
A statement on the Apple website warns customers that functionality may vary from country to country.
"Siri is available in Beta only on iPhone 4S and requires internet access. Siri may not be available in all languages or in all areas, and features may vary by area," it says.
Despite the lack of full functionality and the higher prices, customers in the Emirates began snapping up the phones a day after the model was released oveseas.
"We got our first batch on Saturday, and within hours had sold 250," said Sheriff Rizwan, chief executive of ALshop.com, an online store.
"Demand has so far outstripped anything we saw with the iPhone 4 last year."
The most popular models have been the 16GB and 64GB versions. "It's been a real mix of buyers too. Many are Emiratis, but we've also had Europeans contact us and place orders," he said.
All the iPhone 4S models are factory-unlocked, so they can be used with SIM cards worldwide.
"Our suppliers sent hundreds of people out in Canada and the UK, even waiting hours in queues to make sure we could get them," Mr Rizwan said. "It's a very time-consuming and laborious thing to do because Apple only allows a maximum of two phones to be sold to an individual because they want to deter re-sellers.
"They have already sold out in Canada and Britain so I think our next batch could be a few weeks away."
He said all the phones that were sold came with a one-year warranty.
"If there is a hardware fault, then we will send it to Apple for it to be repaired. We have our own team of experts to fix any software fault. Fortunately, Apple products don't tend to develop problems."