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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Technology has transformed every aspect of life in UAE

The National at 10: Rulers’ speed in embracing technology puts the country at the head of the digital revolution

Emirati attendees wait in front of an image of the city's skyline in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. After years of chasing the biggest and the best, the fast-growing Mideast city of Dubai is turning to technology to help the little things in life run more smoothly. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Emirati attendees wait in front of an image of the city's skyline in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. After years of chasing the biggest and the best, the fast-growing Mideast city of Dubai is turning to technology to help the little things in life run more smoothly. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

When The National launched in April 2008, it came into being first and foremost as a physical newspaper, with our website following rather than leading our coverage.

Ten years later, it’s more likely that you’re reading this article on an iPhone, another product celebrating its tenth anniversary. Today, The National is a digital-first platform, with online content updated constantly throughout the day, catering to an audience in the UAE and beyond that is increasingly choosing to experience the world first and foremost via digital channels.

The explosion of smartphone ownership in the UAE in the past 10 years, coupled with the country’s high internet penetration and government bodies’ readiness to embrace technology, has transformed nearly every aspect of life in the country, from how we communicate, to how we work, shop, get around, and pay our electricity bills.

The UAE’s rulers have been quick to embrace the potential of technology to improve the lives of the country’s inhabitants, with initiatives such as Dubai’s Smart City, first announced in 2013, moving government services increasingly online to improve efficiency and reduce costs. In recent years such efforts have moved up a gear. The embrace of blockchain technology is set to further cut costs among government bodies in the years to come.

A tech savvy population has proved alluring to the region’s entrepreneurs, giving rise to the region’s most dynamic start-up culture. Of the many tech firms to build successful tech businesses from a UAE base, Careem and Souq.com are the most prominent.

The purchase of the local online retailer Souq.com by Amazon in May 2017 helped the UAE's ranking. Pawan Singh / The National
The purchase of the local online retailer Souq.com by Amazon in May 2017 helped the UAE's ranking. Pawan Singh / The National

After launching in Dubai in 2012 as a corporate transportation service, ride-sharing app Careem has expanded to over 13 countries with more than 20 million users, becoming the Middle East’s first tech unicorn in late 2016 with a valuation of over $1 billion.

Starting life as an online auction site in 2005, Souq.com has grown through the years to become the region’s largest e-commerce platform; it made international headlines last year when it was acquired by Amazon, in anticipation that online shopping in the region is on the verge of an exponential rise.

To say that the technology developments of the past 10 years have impacted UAE business practices would of course be an understatement. The rise of FinTech of the past few years is one of the more notable trends to watch in the next 10 years, with banks, financial services, and back office functions across all business segments bracing for massive disruption.

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Read more of our 10-year anniversary coverage here:

SPECIAL REPORT: Chronicling 10 years of change in the UAE

Emirates takes pole position on the world’s sporting circuit

Fashion forward

Then and Now: A decade of remarkable growth in every direction imaginable

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Once again, the UAE’s authorities have been quick to embrace the potential for such new technologies; the country’s largest financial free zones – Abu Dhabi Global Market and the Dubai International Financial Centre – in the past two years have worked hard to create ecosystems where FinTech startups can thrive, working in conjunction with the country’s established businesses so that both sides can reap the benefits.

The path of progress rarely runs entirely smoothly, with technological development in the UAE (as elsewhere) introducing plenty of threats as well as opportunities. The implications of the rise of smartphones and social media, particularly on the young, is only now beginning to be understood, with potentially serious consequences for societal development, with the spread of online extremist propaganda and ‘fake news’ the most obvious negative impacts.

More specific to the region, the Middle East suffers more from cyber-attacks than anywhere else in the world. While the UAE has emerged relatively unscathed from some of the region’s most devastating attacks, such as the Shamoon attacks that impacted Saudi Aramco in 2012, experts continue to warn of the need for increased vigilance, particularly within the energy sector.

In spite of such risks and threats, the transformations that technology has brought about in the UAE in the past 10 years have been for good rather than for ill, not least thanks to the progressive outlook of the country’s authorities (even if Skype frustratingly remains blocked). We can only speculate what the next 10 years will bring, but given the UAE’s forward-looking approach, the future impact of new technologies can only reap further rewards for the country and its people.