New buyers are opting for Google's Android software instead of Apple's iPhones or the Canadian-made BlackBerrys in the US for the first time as the battle for smartphones hots up. The trend towards phones using the Android software may be echoed in the Emirates if BlackBerry services are suspended by the country's authorities in October.
Android handsets are cheaper than iPhones and BlackBerrys because Google gives away the software. A report released yesterday by researchers at Nielsen showed that Android phones were the only ones to gain market share among new users in the last quarter. Apple's iPhone and the BlackBerry, which is made by Research In Motion (RIM) of Canada, saw their slice of the market fall. "While the iPhone has been the headline grabber over the last few years in the smartphone market, Google's Android OS has shown the most significant expansion in market share among current subscribers," Nielsen said.
Android has gained an edge among new subscribers but the BlackBerry retains the top spot among all smartphone users in the US, the world's largest market, with a 33 per cent share so far this year. This is down from 45 per cent in the same period a year earlier. Android has 27 per cent of the market while the iPhone has 23 per cent. BlackBerry has suffered because it has so far failed to develop a winning touch-screen device enabled with applications and browsing features on a par with the Android and iPhone.
It will try to make up ground following the launch of the new BlackBerry Torch in New York last night. It is a touch-screen device with a slide-out keyboard. But in the UAE, it is a different story. Nokia continues to outsell other devices by a big margin - about two out of every three devices sold are made by the Finnish company - while BlackBerry and the iPhone lag, according to Barti Rajan, a mobile device analyst with IDC, a technology consulting firm.
With Android, the UAE has yet to come close to the popularity the device enjoys in the rest of the world, Mr Rajan said. Fewer than 5 per cent of all smartphones sold in the country in the first quarter of this year were Androids, figures from IDC show. "Android, to be honest, is too new in the UAE," Mr Rajan said. "You can talk to many smartphone users in the UAE but they prefer Nokia, BlackBerry and lately, the iPhone. It's more of a hardware brand name that sells handsets here."
Among specific smartphone models, the BlackBerry Curve 8520 is the most popular device sold in the UAE with the iPhone 3GS in second place. A range of Nokia models round up the remaining top five spots. RIM's dominance in the UAE is expected to end if the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) suspends BlackBerry services on October 11. RIM postponed indefinitely a launch party for its BlackBerry Pearl device, an earlier model than the Torch, which was originally scheduled for tonight at the Armani Hotel in Burj Khalifa, Dubai.
Google gives its mobile software to handset makers such as HTC, Samsung and LG for free to encourage users to click on their ads. The mobile advertising market is expected to reach US$593 million (Dh2.17 billion) in the US this year, according to eMarketer, a market research company. Mr Rajan said he expected the TRA and RIM to come to an agreement before the October deadline. "I'm sure one way or another it will be sorted out," he said. "RIM doesn't want to lose out in this market, which is one of the world's fastest-growing smartphone markets. It's a big losing situation for them."
Etisalat, the UAE's largest operator, announced yesterday a range of alternative mobile plans, including iPhones, Nokias and Androids, designed to ease any transition its 400,000-odd BlackBerry subscribers may have to make. Du, the country's second telecoms operator, which has about 100,000 BlackBerry subscribers, plans to reveal similar offerings today. firstname.lastname@example.org