Some customers can now access BlackBerry's apps as RIM conducts beta tests.
BlackBerry tests apps for first time in UAE
BlackBerry addicts have even more reason to stay glued to their smartphones: for the first time in the UAE, some can now download and access applications on their handsets.
Select customers were granted access to the online apps store embedded in their mobile earlier this week, when more than 1,000 apps such as digital games, fitness aids and tools for business travellers, were unlocked. Customers who previously tried accessing these programmes in the BlackBerry store - known as App World - were flashed a message stating it was not currently available in any of the Emirates.
Research in Motion (RIM), which manufacturers the BlackBerry, said it was "currently conducting very limited beta testing on BlackBerry App World. It has not yet launched".
But industry experts said the store was likely to roll out soon to all customers across the Emirates - the first time it would be accessible to an entire country within the Mena region. Once the store does open to the wider public, experts say, the app landscape is expected to change dramatically for consumers, who have sometimes turned to Apple's iPhone instead to access a large pool of smartphone applications.
BberryApp, an app development company based in Amman, Jordan, said it received more than 50 e-mails a day from smartphone users within Mena requesting apps. "The majority of these apps exist on [BlackBerry's] App World but [consumers] have no access to it so far," said Adey Salamin, who co-founded BberryApp. "Opening the App World to Mena would resolve this," he adds.
The market is also expected to become more lucrative for the growing group of entrepreneurs who work in the regional app development business. AppsArabia, a company based in Abu Dhabi that invests in apps ideas from across the Mena region, said it had previously received project proposals from entrepreneurs looking to create BlackBerry apps. Yet often those ideas went unfunded. "They approached us to invest in their app ideas for the BlackBerry platform, and I've been holding off on them because there was no distribution channel," said David Ashford, the general manager for AppsArabia.
"Now there's a distribution channel, I'm ready to invest in those," he added.
During the first half of last year, consumers spent more than US$2.2 billion (Dh8.079bn) globally on downloading apps to their smartphones. That figure is projected to grow to $15.65bn by 2013, as the market gains momentum and "more smartphone users have direct and easy access to app stores", according to a report released last year by research2guidance, a mobile technology research consultancy based in Berlin.
Yet grabbing a slice of those revenues in the UAE may not necessarily be easy for RIM, experts warn. "One of the biggest challenges RIM is going to have, and us as well, is a lot of people don't associate their BlackBerrys with apps," said Mr Ashford. "They have to change that and get people downloading apps for the device, and hopefully that'll fuel the ecosystem."