The global increase in the number of smartphone users is a phenomenon very much in evidence in the Middle East, especially in the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai leads the way. According to research conducted by Google and released in late 2016, the UAE topped the global smartphone penetration at 73.8 percent.
Arabs have, in general, embraced growth in technology. Alongside the surge in smartphone adoption, the demand for mobile applications is increasing. Even so, and despite an Arabic-speaking population of 350 million across the Middle East and North Africa, only five percent of global online content is in Arabic. Initially, the low number of apps available in Arabic meant that the market for products remained small. Now, the trend has changed and top mobile development companies in Dubai and across the region have started developing apps in Arabic. This has caused a spike in the user download rate and a corresponding broadening of the app market.
The Dubai Smart City initiative, launched by Dubai’s e-government, aims to transform the Emirate into a leading global smart city in the upcoming years. It looks like it’s getting there. Dubainow, one of the homegrown smart apps on the market, offers over 50 smart services from 42 government entities. Another eminent example of the rise in homegrown apps is Careem, a Dubai-based transportation network company, with operations in 53 cities in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. The company is valued at around $1 billion. Souq, the Dubai-headquartered online retailer dubbed the Amazon of the Middle East, is yet another homegrown app, one that has grown rapidly since 2011, with approximately 23 million visits per month. Amazon’s recent acquisition of Souq (for a reported $650 million) is a feather in the cap of the region’s app industry, and proves that Middle Eastern nations can produce app giants.
In Dubai, the homegrown app ecosystem has spread its wings to cover fields as diverse as hotel management, travel, beauty salons, and even flash mob alerts. These apps have been rendering a good return on investments for the companies that fund them. Another factor accounting for the happening growth is that many users are willing to pay for an app if its services are good – thus infusing money into the industry.
However, the underlying reason for the success of Dubai’s app industry is unquestionably that app developers started paying attention to the market and implementing what potential customers want. The surge in production of bilingual apps (English and Arabic) demonstrates as much. Companies have undertaken extensive research into what the public desires, and the Dubai government has promoted the growth of local apps by funding and encouraging the startups behind them.
This substantial growth in both the app industry and market is just the beginning. With further innovations in technology, there is no doubt that the phenomenon will continue.
Feature image via Stockvault.