The premium smartphone market, priced above $500, is expected to grow by around 12% in the UAE this year despite an overall flat market.
Tarun Pathak, associate director at research firm Counterpoint Research, told TechRadar Middle East that consumers who are sitting on a two or three-year flagship are expected to upgrade this year.
Two years back, he said the average replacement cycle of a smartphone was 2.4 years but now it is three years as people are holding onto their devices for a longer period and which in turn is hurting manufacturers, especially Apple.
However, he said that all the premium devices launched this year have upgraded features compared to its predecessors.
“Samsung S10 series is quite different from S9 series in terms of design language while Huawei has ramped up its tech specifications and camera capabilities on P30 and everyone is looking to Apple’s new phone in the fourth quarter. There might be an uptake in the premium segment this year as the market did not grow last year,” he said.
Huawei has a good chance of becoming the second best smartphone vendor in the UAE by overtaking Apple this year, an industry expert said. Last year, Samsung was the leader, followed by Apple and Huawei.
Globally, Huawei briefly became number two player in the second and third quarters of last year but succumbed to number third ranking for the full year.
The Chinese player’s intention is to become number one by 2020 by overtaking Samsung.
Speaking to TechRadar Middle East, Tarun Pathak, associate director at research firm Counterpoint Research, said that Samsung will retain its top slot for the year in the UAE as it is doing good business with its S10 devices and its Note series is also to be launched in the fourth quarter.
“Huawei has just launched its P30 devices and is expected to do well with its advanced camera features. Apple has its next launch only in the fourth quarter of this year. So, Huawei has second, third and fourth quarter to outsell Apple while its Mate 30 series is also to be launched in the fourth quarter,” he said.
The average volume of the UAE smartphone market is about two million devices per quarter. Out of that, the volume of the premium segment is about half a million units per quarter, which is roughly one third.
Same is the case globally, he said and added that the global smartphone market is expected to fall by 2% or 3% but the premium market is going up by 18% this year.
“The UAE is driven by three brands - Samsung, Apple and Huawei – and contributes about 70 per cent to the overall market. But these brands contribute 90% to the overall premium market volume,” he said.
As the Chinese market is getting saturated, he said that it is a good opportunity for other Chinese players such as Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus to expand into the Middle East and European markets and focus on premium products.
Oppo has already entered some of the Middle East countries while OnePlus is available online but Vivo is expected to enter the region this year, he said.
Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus are subsidiaries of BBK Electronics
On whether the smaller Chinese players can match the marketing muscle power of Samsung and Huawei, he said that Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus can match the marketing muscle with Samsung and Huawei and their marketing budget is very strong.
Oppo has inked a five-year sponsorship deal to become the first-ever Asian sponsor of The Wimbledon Championships and has partnered with the All England Lawn Tennis Club as the first official smartphone partner for the tournament.
Pathak expects that smaller Chinese players will make big investments in the Middle East this year and it will be a huge investment.
“The UAE is more mature than other countries in the region and consumers are ready to embrace any new technology. So, most of the Chinese brands need to focus on premium brands, irrespective of the size of the market,” Pathak said.
Moreover, he said that the smaller Chinese players need to enter the UAE market and build their brand image in a bid to expand to other markets but they should never enter the market halfhearted as it will backfire and will have an impact on brand credibility.
“Middle East is totally a different market when compared to the rest of the world. In the rest of the world, you have local players, global players such as Huawei, Samsung and Apple, and other Chinese players but in the Middle East, you won’t find Xiaomi, Oppo, OnePlus and Vivo and the reason is that the capital expenditure to enter the market is huge,” he said.
According to a survey globally by Counterpoint Research, consumers are looking at a device from an overall experience point of view.
“The hardware is more or less the same across the brands. So, most of the brands will be focusing on locking their consumers to their ecosystem such as services play and bundling of content going forward,” he said.