People wait in front of the Apple store at Dubai Mall early on Friday. Around 200 Apple fans, including pre-ordered and walk-in customers, queued outside the store early on Friday to be among the first to get their hands on the most expensive phones in the market. Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: The launch of the two new iPhones – XS and XS Max – and Apple Watch Series 4 by Apple at its store at Dubai Mall on Friday (September 21, 2018) did not generate the same excitement it did at last year’s iPhone X launch in the UAE.

This time, only around 200 Apple fans, including pre-ordered and walk-in customers, queued outside the store early on Friday to be among the first to get their hands on the most expensive phones in the market.

Last year, around 500 people queued outside the store for the iPhone X launch.

Vladislav Mikheev from Russia, the first walk-in customer to get his hands on the six iPhone XS Max, said that he and his friends were at the Dubai Mall from 11am on Thursday.

"The new iPhones are coming to Russia only after one week and I did not have the patience to wait. I bought the devices for my whole family,” he said.

Mikheev purchased five (512GB version) and one 256GB version.

Bakhit Al Subosi, from Abu Dhabi, was the first pre-ordered customer who purchased two 512GB version of iPhone XS Max.

“I am a tech-savvy person and want to have the latest devices. I keep changing my phones to know the latest technological knowhow in the market. I purchased the new devices to know what Apple is offering in its latest iPhone,” he said.

The 5.8-inch XS 64GB version is priced at Dh4,229 while the 256GB is priced at Dh4,859 and 512GB at Dh5,709.

The 6.5-inch XS Max 64GB version is priced at Dh4,649 while the 256GB is priced at Dh5,279 and 512GB at Dh6,129.

The Apple Watch Series 4 GPS version with aluminium case is priced at Dh1,599 while the GPS and cellular version (aluminium case) is priced at Dh1,999. The steel case with GPS and cellular version is priced at Dh2,799 and Dh3,199 while the Nike version of aluminium case with GPS and cellular is priced at Dh1,999.

The fall in footfall was anticipated as the new iPhones did not have outright major innovative revolution compared to iPhone X.

Nabila Popal, senior research manager at International Data Corporation, told Gulf News that there is no denying that the new iPhones are exceptional phones with quite a few technological improvements over its predecessors.

However, are the phones an innovative revolution that will change the world of smartphones? 

In the words of the average consumer and channels, she said: “not really”. 

Just an upgrade

“Almost every flagship launch since the past few years from almost all brands, be it the Note 9 from Samsung or the iPhone XS this year, every model seems to just be a slight upgrade from the last one as opposed to an outright innovative revolution, leaving consumers hungry for the ‘next big thing’ in smartphones,” she said.

“So, I don’t think it has been “innovation” in its phones that is the driving factor to pull consumers to Apple phones.  Everyone knows many smartphone innovations in the last few years have been coming first from brands other than Apple trying to make a mark in the industry,” she said. 

Even with the large screen size, she said that Apple came to the party way late.

“Yet despite this, Apple continues to drive strong market share with 22.3 per cent market share in UAE in the second quarter of this year.   I believe this is mainly due to the massive brand loyalty and prestigious brand image that no one other than Apple enjoys in the region, and perhaps even the world,” she said. 

Moreover, she said that Apple share sees a jump in the fourth quarter and first quarter of next year, due to the loyal consumer base that is ready to upgrade their device. 

Market reaction

However, she said that it would be interesting to see how the current market responds to such high-priced products as the market has been suffering a significant decline in consumer spending.

“Retailers or operators offering monthly instalment plans are likely to see more traction in sales for these high-priced phones,” she said. 

According to Digitimes Research, the three new iPhones are expected to surpass 85 million units in the second half of 2018 globally while the total shipments, including older-generation iPhones, are expected to top 127 million units in the second half.

iPhone XR

The entry-level third model – XR – will be available from October 26, pre-ordering will start from October 19.

Even though the phones have dual SIM (nano SIM and eSIM) options, eSIM will not be available in the UAE in the near future but it will available only for the watches from Etisalat’s network.

An eSIM is a digital SIM that allows users to activate a cellular plan from a carrier without having to use a physical SIM.

According to Apple’s website, countries such as Austria, Hungary, Canada, India, Croatia, Spain, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Germany and the US support the eSIM facility.

Not all carriers support eSIM

“eSIM will be available later this year through a software update. Use of eSIM requires a wireless service plan (which may include restrictions on switching service providers and roaming, even after contract expiration). Not all carriers support eSIM. Use of eSIM in iPhone may be disabled when purchased from some carriers,” the Apple website said.

Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner, told Gulf News, that with Chinese and other Android devices coming stronger in the premium end in the Asian markets, there is a threat for Apple and so they need three devices to match.

She said that  Apple is trying to extract more value from its installed user base and that is why they are going stronger on services and contents because that will be the future source of revenue.

“It is not the specs game anymore as most Chinese players are fighting in the specs space and same is the challenge for Samsung to be an ecosystem player,” she said.

Good upgrades

Despite being the “S” product year for Apple, she said that Apple has come out with good upgrades.

“Nowadays in the smartphone market, you cannot expect any revolution and it is going to be only incremental. It is value and evolution rather than revolution,” she said.

They have to do it finally with wider displays to compete with other Chinese player, she said, and added that despite the 5.8-inch iPhone X being a solid and great device, it felt a little bit lacking in display size when compared to the 5.5-inch iPhone 8 plus.

She said that the new iPhones will be appealing to more regional markets that care about having bigger displays.

The iPhone XR, which is more affordable and a clever addition, will be appealing to more Asian markets, especially China, she added.