x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE BlackBerry users come to terms with suspension

The 500,000 BlackBerry users confront the pain of withdrawal if the suspension is enacted.

Fatema Kazim uses her BlackBerry to keep in touch with her husband when he is overseas.
Fatema Kazim uses her BlackBerry to keep in touch with her husband when he is overseas.

Hammad Siddiqi rues the day he sold his iPhone. For almost three years, he carried both an Apple handset and a BlackBerry everywhere he went. Just three months ago, he sold the iPhone for Dh1,300 - barely a third of what he paid for it less than a year ago.

But now, following the announcement on Sunday by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority that BlackBerry services were to be suspended from October 11, the 25-year-old Pakistani architect finds himself needing a phone once more. "I should have just kept it," he says. But he is not just upset about the money - he says the bigger problem will be giving up his "crackberry" habit. "I can't believe I will have to let go of my BBs. The very reason that made the BlackBerry special, the BB Messenger, is now gone. I am constantly on it. It is not that I can't live without it, I just enjoy life more with it."

He can't resist checking who sent the message causing his device to vibrate and "ping" or what the "mesmerizing blinking red light" is trying to tell him. He is one of about 500,000 BlackBerry users in the UAE that may have to wean themselves off their Blackberrys if the TRA suspends services. The country has one of the highest penetration rates for the device in the world - adored by teenage girls and high-flying business executives alike.

"The jokes, the rumours, the photos and the news, everything and anything is sent for free and can be broadcast to your contacts with the press of a button," he says. "I just never imagined that this could happen." He is a big fan of BlackBerry Messenger [BBM], the unlimited messaging service included with every subscription. Whenever he or any of his five cousins hear an Indian song on the radio that the rest might appreciate, they record it and send it to each other via BBM.

"The BB Messenger makes you feel closer to the loved ones that are far away," he says. "It helps to build relationships by always keeping you in touch and letting you know each other's latest news by simply looking at their status update." For some, the BBM offers a lifeline to a loved one living abroad. "It is the only way I get to keep in touch with my husband as he works away for many hours inside a biology lab," said Fatema Kazim, 24, an Emirati from Dubai.

Her husband is often away studying for his PhD in molecular Biology in the US, and Mrs Kazim, who is studying for her MBA, finds that the BlackBerry has helped keep their romance alive. "He sends me cute little photos of test tubes and anything else he might be working on," she says. "It is like I am there with him." Mrs Kazim's mother, too, makes the most of the BBM service and e-mails, sending "sheets and sheets" of messages and updates.

"She loves it," says Mrs Kazim. "Whenever I am away in the US with my husband, she writes me messages every day and updates about the rest of the family." While the decorated, often bejewelled BlackBerry is a firm favourite of many women, Mrs Kazim says she resists going to extremes. Even so, she has seven jackets for the device, in all colours of the rainbow, and switches them every two weeks. "Everywhere you look, you are bound to see someone with a BlackBerry. And in my field of business, it is really important to have this kind of access," she says.

"It is a real shame, and I hope it gets resolved somehow." Not all are so unhappy at the suspension, however. "My father and mother are glad this is happening," says Waqar Ahmed, 24, one of Mr Siddiqi's cousins. "It will stop me from typing out messages while driving." Mr Ahmed works in banking, and is completely dependent on the BlackBerry, although he also carries a Nokia mobile phone. The BlackBerry, he says, "has lots of important services and options for businesses. It will be a great loss in terms of productivity.

"It was the very fact that the information shared in the BB Messenger was secure and private that made me comfortable enough to send sensitive information like credit card and account numbers through it." Indeed, BBMs are almost too useful, he says. "Once you add someone on your BB Messenger, they stop calling you. But that could be a good thing with certain people that you are not particularly close to or want to talk to on the phone. "Now, we will be going back to calling and sending text messages, and complaining about the costs." rghazal@thenational.ae