x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Move over iPhone, BlackBerry or Samsung: King of phones in UAE is not so smart

Meet the UAE's most popular phone. It's not an iPhone, or the lastest Samsung Galaxy. It's not even a BlackBerry, despite their ubiquity.

The Nokia 1280 on display at the Sharaf DG store in Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
The Nokia 1280 on display at the Sharaf DG store in Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

ABU DHABI // Meet the country's most popular phone.

It's not an iPhone, or the latest Samsung Galaxy. It's not even a BlackBerry, despite their ubiquity.

In fact, it's not any kind of smartphone. You can't use it to access the internet or check your email. Forget touchscreens – it doesn't even have a colour screen.

Launched in March 2010, the Nokia 1280 is anything but the epitome of high-tech. But it is a big hit, accounting for 3.08 per cent of all the phones in the UAE.

What it does have is a long-lasting battery. Its small, black-and-white display and lack of power-draining features allows it to handle eight and half hours of calls on a single charge, or more than three weeks on standby – a far cry from most smartphones, which need charging at least once a day.

And it is cheap. At Dh70, you could buy 32 of them for the price of one iPhone 4S.

Mohamed Elsaeed, the deputy director at Hello Future Mobiles in Abu Dhabi, said the phone was one of the shop's bestsellers.

"It is a very popular phone, he said. "We sell about 50 a month. Many labourers buy this phone because it is not expensive."

Equally popular in his shop is the slightly more advanced Nokia 101, which can hold two sim cards and a memory card. It costs about Dh20 more.

You don't have to go far to find someone who swears by their 1280, as one in 30 people in the country has one in their pocket.

Muhammad Nawaz, an Abu Dhabi taxi driver from Pakistan, has had one for more than a year.

"It was not so expensive, but if it falls, if I drop it, it does not break," he said. "The signal is very good. In all of Abu Dhabi and in our accommodation, the Nokia still has good signal, when other phones do not work. Nokia is the best I think – easy to use."

According to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), Nokia's wide range of budget phones give it a huge share of the market – accounting for half of all registered handsets.

BlackBerry and Samsung each have 10.7 per cent and Apple comes in fourth with 8.4 per cent. The iPhone 4S is the second-most popular handset, with 2.93 per cent of the market.

Nokia, although clearly finding a niche in the budget market, have not been so successful with smartphones, struggling to keep up with the pace of the world-leaders.

Although by no means unsuccessful, Nokia's Lumia range, which uses Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system, has yet to match the dizzying sales figures of rivals Samsung and Apple, despite being up to Dh450 cheaper.

Apple's iOS continues to be the most popular smartphone operating system, with BlackBerry and Android a close second and third.

"The report provides an interesting snapshot of the UAE's mobile handset market share which has very distinct characteristics in terms of consumer adoption," said Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, director general of the TRA.

Even though the technology is not as cutting-edge as that of some of its rivals, Nokia is not resting on its laurels and is due to release a new budget phone soon.

Expected to cost about Dh75, the 105 is similar in appearance and functionality to the 1280, but boasts even more impressive battery life. It is said able to last 35 days on standby on one charge.

ksinclair@thenational.ae