Experts expect strong demand for Research in Motion's tablet in the UAE, but the iPad is set to remain the leader.
BlackBerry PlayBook to take on iPad
Retailers expect strong demand for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet when it is officially launched in the UAE, but say it is unlikely to outsell the Apple iPad.
The PlayBook may launch as early as June 10 in the UAE, which will be the second market in which the tablet is sold after North America.
"In the UAE, it is expected to be in store between the 10th and 15th of June," said Mike al Mefleh, the Middle East director of product management for Research In Motion, which makes BlackBerry phones and the PlayBook devices.
"We're going to start in Saudi Arabia and the UAE," he added. "We will roll it out to the rest of the Middle East soon after that, and then Africa and the rest of the world."
While BlackBerry has not announced the UAE retail price, it is expected there will be a premium of about US$100 (Dh367) on US list prices.
The tablet, which has a 7-inch touchscreen display and links wirelessly with BlackBerry phones, costs $499 in the US for the basic version, with 16 gigabytes of storage. The 32GB and 64GB models cost $599 and $699, respectively.
Ashish Panjabi, the chief operating officer at the retail store Jacky's Electronics, said he expected the PlayBook to be more expensive in the UAE.
"Final prices are yet to set, but could fall between the Dh2,199 and Dh2,599 range for the 16GB and 32GB models, respectively," he said. "For the 64GB, a final decision on pricing will be taken when there is more clarity on stock availability."
Sanjay Amarnani, the chief executive of the online shopping site Aido.com, based in the Gulf, said electronic goods usually cost more in the UAE than the US.
"For any product that comes out in the US, when it launches in this part of the world, it's always about 10 to 15 per cent more expensive," he said.
Aido.com is selling "grey market" PlayBook devices at US list prices. "It's very easily available in the grey market here already," said Mr Amarnani, who said he would keep his prices the same even after next month's official launch of the PlayBook.
Aido.com has sold 102 PlayBook devices, far fewer than the iPad. It sold about 800 or 900 of the first-generation iPad, and has already sold 394 iPad 2 devices, Mr Amarnani said.
"iPad has been a lot more successful. Apple has got it right. It was the first tablet out, so people went crazy about it," he said.
The popularity of BlackBerry phones in the UAE could give a boost to PlayBook sales, said Matthew Reed, an analyst based in Dubai with Informa Telecoms & Media. However, he said the iPad was forecast to remain the top-selling tablet in the UAE.
"It won't be an easy ride for the PlayBook because the tablet market is becoming very competitive; the iPad continues to be the most desirable device at the top end of the tablet market, while there is a growing number of options at the mid and lower ends," he said.
Nadeem Khanzadah, the deputy general manager for retail at Jumbo Electronics, said he expected strong initial demand from BlackBerry users in the UAE.
He attributed this to the popularity of BlackBerry devices, and the fact users can pair the PlayBook with their phone, avoiding additional data charges.
Mr Panjabi said the Apple iPad 2 had the lead over PlayBook in several areas, including "the first-mover advantage" and the limited availability of applications the PlayBook.
One advantage the PlayBook does have over the iPad 2 is compatibility with Adobe Flash.
Mark Doherty, a "platform evangelist" at Adobe, said the PlayBook was the first BlackBerry device to run Flash, which is required to watch videos on YouTube.
"Today, 75 per cent of all video online is delivered in Flash. It's a 128 billion megabytes per month of Flash streaming. It's a lot," he said. "There's a huge portion of content that, for devices without Flash player, you just don't get to see."
Residents of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have the highest usage of YouTube per capita in the world, a senior manager at Google said this month.