x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Vertu luxury smartphone targets UAE high rollers

Do you have up to Dh96,000 burning a hole in your pocket, and you need a new phone with an Arabic-speaking concierge service at the touch of a button?

High rollers win the UAE will soon have Arabic-speaking concierges on call 24 hours a day to provide them with a range of services such as restaurant recommendations when in a new city, or even gift ideas for loved ones, all at the touch of a phone button.

Not any old phone, mind you; the service is available only on the luxury Vertu device. The company's latest model costs between Dh27,000 (US$7,352) for the steel version and Dh96,200 for the gold version of its Constellation Quest smartphone.

Perry Oosting, the president of Vertu, which is based in the UK, said its devices already came equipped with Arabic keys and software but its customers would be able to use its Vertu Concierge service in Arabic from January 1.

"We have many people who request to speak in their local language," he said during a visit to Dubai on Wednesday. "It's out of respect for the region and respect for our customers."

Vertu is an independent subsidiary of Nokia, the largest handset maker in the world. Although Vertu does not provide detailed sales figures, it has sold more than 300,000 units since 2002.

The Arabic-speaking concierge service is the company's latest move to stay competitive. Vertu, which has more than 120 branded stores in 70 countries, is also adding concierge services in Italian, German, Mandarin and French. This service is already available in Russian, Cantonese, Japanese and English.

The company recently launched the Constellation Quest, its first smartphone with a full alphanumeric keyboard. Mr Oosting said he hoped that would "change the game" for the company, adding that he expected stock to sell out.

"We will attract a lot of new customers with this device," he said. "Many customers come to the Vertu store and say, 'I want a smartphone or e-mail-centric phone,' and we could not deliver them. So this will certainly help to support the region, in the Middle East."

Smartphones, such as the popular BlackBerry device made by Research In Motion, or Apple's touchscreen iPhone, have been the fastest-growing category of mobile phones.

The research company Gartner, based in the UK, said that although the global mobile phone market was flat last year compared to 2008, with 1.21 billion units sold, smartphones were this year flying off the shelves. There were 172.4 million smartphones sold last year, up 23.8 per cent.

Mr Oosting said Vertu sales in the region dipped slightly at the beginning of last year but came back strongly by the end of the year.

Hassan Moustapha, the manager for Vertu Middle East and Africa, said sales of Vertu phones in the region were up 19 per cent in the first half of the year compared with the same period last year. He forecast annual sales would be up as much as 25 per cent by the end of the year compared with last year.

"What is driving our growth is our store expansion and new releases like our new business smartphone," Mr Moustapha said. "We have six Vertu stores in the UAE and we are planning up to open up to three more stores next year."

Barti Rajan, a mobile device analyst with IDC, a technology consultancy, said in a good quarter, Vertu sold between 1,000 and 1,200 Vertu mobile phones in the UAE.

"A lot of these buyers, however, are not from the UAE," Mr Rajan said. "They're visitors from other Gulf countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia where they don't have access to the large Vertu boutique showrooms that are available here."

Mr Rajan said many of the UAE mobile users who had been an important driver of Vertu in the region were now opting to use other handsets such as the iPhone and BlackBerry.

"A lot of people here change their phones after about a year of use," Mr Rajan said. "The Vertu brand is not competing as well with mobiles such as iPhones and BlackBerrys because they have applications that the Vertu does not have."

Overall sales for three of the top five mobile vendors dipped last year, including Nokia, according to Gartner. Nokia sold 441 million phones, down from 472 million the year before. Sales are rebounding, however, and have grown in each of the first three quarters of this year, the researcher said.

Worldwide mobile phone sales to totalled 417 million units in the third quarter of this year, a 35 per cent increase from the same quarter last year. Smartphone sales in the third quarter increased 96 per cent compared with the same period last year.

Things are looking positive, with 50 to 60 per cent sales growth globally so far this year, Mr Oosting said.