They turned up in their hundreds, if not thousands, to witness the opening of the first Apple store in the Middle East at Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates on Thursday afternoon.
The snaking queue – shepherded by airport control tape and a 20-strong team of security staff – outside the store had been started on Tuesday evening by a suitably enigmatic Apple aficionado who said he had witnessed 40 Apple store openings – but didn’t want to give his name.
As the shop opened, he was greeted like a marathon winner … high fives, hugs, and then held aloft by a phalanx of grey and black clad Apple staff.
Second in the queue was an Emirati gentleman, Mohammed Jawad, who had “only” waited 26 hours – which raised the question: why?
“Because I love all things Apple and this is a moment in history,” he said.
“Apple is an icon of modern design and technology, and the stores are only in cities that reflect those values. This is an exciting moment for Dubai and the UAE.”
The cheering, chanting staff and countdown to the 4pm opening hyped up an atmosphere akin to teenage fandom. Apple, it seems, is the Harry Styles of technology.
It is the first time the California-based company has opened two stores in the same country on the same day since its first and second Apple stores opened their doors in the United States.
Apple is notoriously shy when dealing with the media, until it wants to. Key Apple staff such as Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president for retail and online stores was present but when asked for a comment by The National she turned away, and an Apple staff member said she would not be talking to the media as “she is only here to enjoy the day”. Other Apple fans enjoying the day once they entered the hallowed portal were less coy about why they had waited for two hours outside a locked door to see products they had already seen and were familiar with.
“I don’t know why I’m here,” said Abdullah Albanna, an investment manager in Dubai. “I just think its exciting, I already have at least 5 apple products but I’m sure there must be something in here I can buy. In the long run it is great to have a store that can offer brilliant technical support and information – we have needed that.”
Yasmine Mohammed, an office worker in Dubai, said: “I have only just bought an iPhone – not from here. I am hoping someone can tell me all the things the phone can do and help me set it up – then it will have been worth the wait.”
With the second store also opening, in Yas Mall, on Thursday evening and a third Apple shop scheduled for Dubai Mall in May, Apple has made a significant shift into the Middle East, but industry watchers suggest that does not mean Apple stores will become a staple across the region.
“Countries such as the KSA and Qatar are still in development mode with regard to retail,” said Christopher Seymour, head of Middle East markets at the engineering and design consultancy Arcadis. “The KSA has a youthful population that love smartphone but Apple is more than the iPhone. It has nearly 150 different products in the Dubai store. Apple needs a dependable customer base and continuous footfall.”
A recent report from Arcadis ranked the UAE first in the Middle East and eighth globally when it comes to market attractiveness for retailers.
“If the UAE keeps the tourists coming in then retailers will benefit,” Mr Seymour said.
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