Smartphones are expected to drive the overall handset sales this year in the Middle East and Africa with more manufacturers focusing on low-cost smartphones.
But the basic feature phones (non-smartphones) are still the king in the region despite smartphones taking over in some parts of the world.
Research firm Gartner said that smartphone sales surpassed feature phone sales globally for the first time last year, but in the region smartphones could only garner 57 million units out of the total 193 million handset sales.
Globally, 968 million smartphones were sold last year out of a total of 1.8 billion handsets, with smartphones accounting for 53.6 per cent of overall sales.
Smartphones are expected to grow by 30 per cent to 74 million units and the overall market by five per cent in the Middle East and Africa this year.
“Smartphones are driving the demand in emerging markets as sales in more mature markets fell due to weak demand,” Annette Zimmermann, Principal Analyst at Gartner Deutschland GmbH, said in an exclusive interview to Gulf News.
India had the biggest smartphone sales growth in the fourth quarter with 166.8 per cent, followed by Latin America with 96.1 per cent, China with 86.3 per cent, Middle East and Africa, Asia/Pacific and Eastern Europe with over 50 per cent.
Zimmermann said that 17.06 million smartphones were sold in the Middle East and Africa in the fourth quarter out of the total of 55.16 million handsets, with smartphones accounting for 30.92 per cent of overall sales.
“The biggest change in the fourth quarter was the change in vendor rankings. Three Chinese vendors — TCL, ZTE and Huawei — are in the top five now due to the growth in low-cost phones,” she said.
BlackBerry dropped out of the top five smartphone and overall handset rankings in the fourth quarter for the first time.
“I don’t see a good turnaround strategy for BlackBerry as no new product has been released and they have also slashed prices drastically,” Zimmermann said.
BlackBerry is expected to launch two new devices — Z3 and Q20 — this year. The full-touch Z3 is likely to retail for $200 and the first device to be made by a Chinese manufacturer — Foxconn.
The 3.5-inch Q20 will have the same Qwerty keyboard and with integrated track pad for single-handed use.
She said that their new CEO John Chen had said they are going to focus on Qwerty keyboards, but that is the opposite of where the market is heading. Why would they do that? They have created a new operating system that is “optimised for touch.” “I don’t have a high strategy for BlackBerry to be honest and I don’t think people will be opting for Qwerty keyboards now,” she said.
According to Hamza Saleem, senior research analyst at research firm International Data Corporation, BlackBerry’s market share is dwindling and is now placed seventh.
Some retailers in the UAE, who do not want to be named, said that they will not take new stocks of BlackBerry once the old inventories finish.
BlackBerry could only sell 18.6 million units last year compared to 34.21 million in 2012. Total handset sales were almost flat last year in the region but the positive side was the growth in smartphones.
“The Middle East market has become saturated and growth is expected to come from African markets,” Saleem said.