BalckBerry handsets on display in Dubai. While Americans are dumping their BlackBerrys, RIM’s fiscal growth rate from March 2011 to March 2012 stood at 119 per cent in the region. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd is planning to open flagship stores across the Middle East in bid to boost its regional market share amid declining global sales.

"We are in the final stages of negotiating a lease on a flagship store of as much as 1,500 square feet in Dubai, said Sandeep Saihgal, managing director of RIM's Middle East business," told Bloomberg.

He said stores with local partner Axiom Telecom are also planned across the region.

"We're getting the first one up and running and then we'll be looking at other cities across the Middle East - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar," Saihgal said

While Americans are dumping their BlackBerrys for iPhone or Android devices, quoting a GfK report, Saihgal told Gulf News that RIM's fiscal growth rate from March 2011 to March 2012 stood at 119 per cent in the region.

The region has one of the highest BBM penetration rates in the world with 98 per cent of all BlackBerry smartphone customers using BBM (98 per cent in UAE, 99 per cent in Saudi Arabia, 97 per cent in Kuwait.) There are over 55 million BBM users globally.

He said RIM is still the number one selling smartphone in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; as well as many other countries globally including the UK, Netherlands, South Africa, Nigeria and Latin America. According to Asymco, a company selling software development and consulting services for companies interested in deploying mobile applications, BlackBerry smartphones outsold a key competitor by more than 3:1 across the MEA region last year.

Globally, Saihgal said RIM's subscriber base has grown to 77 million in the fourth quarter of 2011, from 75 million in third quarter and 70 million in second quarter.

BlackBerry 7 and PlayBook OS 2.1 were a big step forward in this journey. As part of the lead up to BlackBerry 10, he said we will continue to seek partnerships with application and service providers to deliver consumer features and content that are central to the BlackBerry value proposition.

RIM is counting on first-time smartphone buyers across the Middle East, Africa and Asia to choose a BlackBerry. Helped by features like the free instant-messaging BlackBerry Messenger programme, shipments in the Middle East and Africa more than doubled to 2.29 million units in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, outselling the iPhone by a margin of 4-to-1, IDC data show.

The Middle East expansion will probably be followed by Africa, with RIM planning flagship stores in markets including Nairobi, Kenya, and Lagos, Nigeria,

To cater to local tastes, RIM plans to customize the look of its Middle Eastern stores with Axiom, which bills itself as the Middle East's largest mobile-phone distributor.