The state-of-the-art handsets have virtually disappeared off store shelves and may not be back in some shops this side of Christmas.
iPhone buyers put on hold
ABU DHABI // If you were hoping to find an iPhone under the tree on Christmas morning, you may be disappointed. "Overwhelming" demand for the Apple smartphones in the run-up to last month's Eid al Adha holiday has left retailers in the capital and Dubai struggling to obtain new stock.
The few outlets that do have them are charging substantial markups. Most retailers polled by The National said not only had they been out of stock of both the iPhone 3GS and its less powerful sibling, the iPhone 3G, they were unable to give any indication when they would get more. Although the top-of-the-range 3GS has been available on the "grey market" - through imports not officially sanctioned by Apple - since soon after the handset's global launch in June, it only went on sale officially in October.
The 3GS is the third generation of the iPhone, which first went on sale in the US in 2007. The phone has become popular for its touch-screen interface, and the ability to download applications that provide extra functions such as games and satellite navigation. While handsets bought through the telecoms providers du or Etisalat cost around Dh2,800 (US$760) for the top-end, 32-gigabyte model, the same handset can cost up to Dh3,600 through other channels. The Virgin Megastore charges Dh3,400 for the 3GS.
The online auction site eBay had new 3GS handsets selling for just under Dh3,600 yesterday. The temptation to go to official retailers overseas could see buyers locked into monthly payments or tariffs. Staff at most of the stores contacted had no idea why the iPhone was out of stock, or when they would have more in. A sales assistant at the Carrefour supermarket in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi, said it had been out of iPhones for more than a month.
"We do not know when we will have the phones in stock again. We would like to have them before Christmas but we really have no idea when they will be available," he said. Sales representatives at Plug-Ins were also doubtful of when their store would have iPhones and i2, an electronics store at Abu Dhabi Mall, said it had not had iPhones in stock for nearly two months. A sales clerk at Virgin Megastore said: "We are out of stock, and as far as I know, so are all the other retailers. No one knows when the phones will be available again."
At the du kiosk in Marina Mall, the sales clerk said he hoped they would be back on sale in about a week, but he could not be sure. The kiosk had been out of stock of iPhones for more than a month. Etisalat kiosk representatives at Marina Mall also had none in stock. Retailers in Dubai reported similar shortages, although the Sharaf DG store in Ibn Battuta Mall said it had a handful of the mid-range 16-gigabyte model, which sells for around Dh2,400 through Etisalat and du when available. Sharaf's price was Dh3,200.
While not acknowledging the shortage officially, du said it had been "overwhelmed" by demand for the phone ever since its launch. "We have been regularly replenishing stock at our shops and would like to assure availability and swift delivery of the smartphone to our customers," a spokesman said. He did not say when stores would receive additional supplies. An Etisalat spokesman said "some places that have high traffic" had run out of iPhones after a spike in demand during Eid, in addition to the fact that "Etisalat was closed for one week and we weren't distributing" the iPhones.
The phones would be available in official Etisalat outlets "in a matter of days", he added. The company did have plentiful stocks of the rival HTC Magic handset, a well-reviewed model similar to the iPhone that runs Google's Android operating system. But customers were frustrated. Shruti Jagdeesh, a photographer based in Dubai, had decided to buy an iPhone instead of a BlackBerry after seeking advice from friends. She said she was disappointed by the apparent shortage.
"When I finally made a decision that I'd buy the iPhone from du, it was out of stock," she said. "I'm travelling for work and I lost my current phone, so it's imperative I buy a new phone soon. "I'm hoping that the iPhone from du is in stock by the time I get back. The shortage leaves me no choice but to wait. I'm hoping I don't have to wait too long, though." Susan Macaulay, a Canadian based in Dubai, said she would wait until the iPhone was available because she was "an Apple fanatic".
"I'll just wait until they are available - and really you don't have any choice. I'm loyal to Apple. I've used Apple and Macintosh since 1989." Ms Macaulay said she did not wish to buy the marked-up phones, preferring the official Etisalat and du channels. "I tend to stick to the rules when it comes to that kind of thing," she said. firstname.lastname@example.org