Booming in M-E, BlackBerry makers look for Arabic apps
ZAWYA DOW JONES
DUBAI BLACKBERRY-MAKER Research In Motion Ltd.
(RIM) more-than-doubled smartphone sales in the Middle East last year, and expects this rapid rate of growth to continue in 2012, fuelled by strong demand for its free instant messaging system and a growing appetite for locally developed apps.
“In the Middle East region we saw 119 percent from March 2011 to March 2012,” Sandeep Saihgal, RIM’s Managing Director for the Middle East, said in an phone interview on Wednesday from the company’s headquarters in Ontario. “It shows that BlackBerry is the number one selling smartphone now in Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The reason is that we are very strong is that the BlackBerry Messenger continues to be one of our key propositions in the Middle East”.
The smartphone and tablet maker has struggled globally in recent times, losing market share to the likes of Apple as well as devices powered by Google’s Android operating system. It does, however, still have plenty of fans in the Middle East and according to company data 97 percent of customers in the region use the BBM service, one of the highest adoption rates worldwide.
In an effort to further boost BlackBerry sales in the Middle East, the company is looking to build alliances with partners to develop content for local applications.
“You need to have local expertise and local requirements.
These Arabic apps continue to have one of the largest downloads not only in the region, but across the world as well. A customer who stays in the Middle East has his own requirements, but also utilises some of the global apps so it’s a mix,” RIM’s Saihgal said.
“The local development and local applications fulfil the needs of the customers locally as well as understand what they need. It could be from local games to local utility apps. Ramadan is a great example. Last year, we had Ramadan app which ranged from prayers to recipes,” Saihgal added.
BlackBerry launched an online Middle East App World in May 2011 with about 5000 apps. Currently it has around 40,000 apps, of which 1,100 are Arabic, according to the company.
Ten-to-twenty new applications are added every week by Middle East developers, it said.
To complement its apps store, BlackBerry last year created a gaming lab in Jordan for developers where Research In Motion provides training and development tools as well as smartphones, BlackBerry PlayBook tablets to local app developers there. In return, the apps created will feature in RIM’s online store.
In Saudi Arabia, RIM partnered with the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, or SAGIA, to give Saudi mobile developers access to RIM’s in-house team of developers, and provide support for getting their apps marketed into BlackBerry App World.
Research in Motion is also in talks to establish similar partnerships to develop local apps in the U.A.E., Kuwait, Lebanon and Egypt.
“There are a lot of discussions going on with partners and this will continue from our side. In the U.A.E. there are discussions for either labs or alliance programs to work with local developers there,” said Saihgal. “We are trying to invest whenever we see the opportunity and the need across the region. We partner whenever we see the need and we see the opportunity.”