Middle East retailers expect “hysteria” over the iPhone 6, with warnings of inflated prices and supply shortages when the smartphone first hits the shelves.
Apple is rumored to be unveiling the phone on Sept. 9, and some retailers expect the device to be available in the Gulf region just 11 days later.
Numerous leaks about the much-anticipated iPhone 6 suggest it will have a bigger screen, more storage capacity and possibly a “mobile wallet” feature.
But all Apple has said is that it is holding an event in California on Sept. 9 – and it remains typically tight-lipped over rumors the new iPhone and its first “iWatch” are to be unveiled on the day. “Wish we could say more,” the cryptic media invitations read.
The U.S.-based company said it does not comment on “rumours or speculation” when contacted by Al Arabiya News.
Yet several Middle East retailers are confident the iPhone 6 will be part of next week’s announcement by Apple. “It’s definitely a done deal,” said Omar Kassim, the founder of the UAE-based online retailer JadoPado.
The new iPhone is widely expected to be bigger than Apple’s current flagship model, the 5S, which has a 4-inch screen.
According to widespread industry rumors, Apple plans two versions of the new phone, with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screens.
Yet Kassim said there is some uncertainty over whether Apple will release both at the same time.
“The only question is whether both the 4.7-inch and the 5.5-inch [models] will be announced and be available a few days after the announcement, or whether the 5.5-inch will be delayed due to what is rumoured to be production delays,” he said.
Nadeem Khanzadah of the UAE retailer Jumbo Electronics said he is “quite sure” Apple is set to unveil the iPhone 6 with a 4.7-inch screen.
He cited information received from manufactures of accessories such as phone cases and screen protectors.
“Some of the vendors say they’ve already got the specifications for the case,” he said. “It seems like it’s all adding up to a launch on September 9th.”
Neelesh Bhatnagar, the chief executive of Middle East electronics chain Emax, said the iPhone 6 stands to be a “best seller and a standout product”, in part due to the larger screen. Emax has 60 stores across the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain.
“Since there is expected to be a change in form factor with larger screen, the iPhone 6 will generate initial hysteria for sure,” Bhatnagar said.
One key factor influencing the popularity of the phone will, of course, be the price.
Currently, an entry-level iPhone 5S will cost you $649 without a carrier contract in the U.S. – rising to $849 for the top-of-the-range 64GB version.
Middle East retailers expect the price of the iPhone 6 to be even higher. “We think [the iPhone 6 will be] in the range of about 5 to 10 percent more than the iPhone 5S,” said Khanzadah. “That’s what we’re expecting – but, of course, there could always be surprises.”
Middle East retailers expect the iPhone 6 to be available in markets like the UAE by the end of this month – although not necessarily through official channels.
Retailer JadoPado is already listing the iPhone 6 on its website – in gold, silver and grey and with up to 128GB capacity – although has not specified prices.
Kassim said he expects “alternatively sourced devices” to be available in the UAE on Sept. 20, ahead of the official launch of the product, which he expects to be in early November.
Desirable gadgets often arrive in Middle Eastern markets early on the so-called “grey market” – where they are sold legally but not imported though official distributors.
Bhatnagar said the iPhone 6 “may command a huge premium” in price when initially sold on the grey market.
This market is “damaging” to mainstream retailers, said Nadeem Khanzadah of Jumbo Electronics.
“It should be available on the grey market, because products tend to flood in right after launch,” he said. “The customer doesn’t get the right experience… Plus there is no real backup for them if something goes wrong.”
As an official reseller of Apple products, Jumbo would not stock the iPhone 6 until its official launch, Khanzadah added.
But he said he hoped that some Middle Eastern countries would be included in the “first wave” of launch countries by Apple.
“The Middle East is becoming more and more important for Apple,” he said. “They may prioritize the Middle East or at least the UAE.”
Ashish Panjabi, chief operating officer for the UAE electronics retailer Jacky’s, said Apple had begun launching products in markets like the UAE earlier.
“We do hope Apple will maintain its policy of bringing new models to the UAE as quickly as possible,” he said. “We saw the iPhone 5S launch in the UAE approximately 40 days after the U.S. … this was a big improvement from previous launches where the typical lag time was anywhere between four months to a year.”
Whatever the launch date, retailers expect the iPhone 6 to be in short supply when it is first available in the Middle East.
“We anticipate that there will be huge demand for this – even more than for the previous iPhones,” said Khanzadah. “Initially there is always short supply.”
Panjabi said that there is “a lot riding” on the new iPhone, as an opportunity for Apple to regain some ground lost to rival phone manufacturers like Samsung.
“If the new iPhone comes with a bigger screen, it will help them plough back some market share,” he said.
Analysts said that Apple and Samsung are now the two main contenders in the Gulf smartphone business.
In the UAE, for example, Samsung phones account for 19.3 percent of all handsets used, according to figures from the local telecoms regulator for the first quarter of the year.
Apple handsets account for just 9.1 percent of the total in the UAE – although the iPhone 5 ranks as the most commonly used device in the smartphone category.
“The take-up of smartphones in the UAE and across the GCC is growing strongly and the top end of the smartphone market here is now a two-horse race between Apple and Samsung,” said Matthew Reed, principal analyst at Ovum in Dubai.
“The launch of a new iPhone will put the baton in Apple’s hand, and the expected design features of the iPhone 6 – a bigger screen, slimmer device – do chime with current tastes.”
However, it remains to be seen whether “Apple will be able to come up with something truly innovative”, Reed added.
But come Sept. 9, we will know more – assuming, of course, the industry rumors prove correct.