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The Truth about Apple in the Middle East

Disclaimer: This article has been originally Posted on MyMac back in 2/2/2007 (Some information might be out of date).


This article may piss-off a lot of people, and it may generate a lot of hate mail. Send it to my email (look at the about page).

But before things get messy, let me give you a quick background about myself. I am an independent corporate advisor, who has had the pleasure of working with multi-national companies, start-ups, and governments around the world. Mostly in dealing and handling contracts and projects that has cost, in some cases, over a billion US dollars. But what really matters here is that I am a passionate Mac-user.

The sad fact is that Apple has no true presence in the Middle-East market. I have yapped about this numerous times before, especially when I talked about the iPhone and its Tsunami effect in a previous article. Apple’s official dealer, ABM, is hiding behind the walls of the two MacStores they’ve set up since they got the exclusive dealership.

I had to do a lot of digging to find out that ABM (Arab Business Machines) is a subsidiary of a giant holding company called MDS group. It’s ABM that has rights to sell Apple products not only in the Mid-East, but in other countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Romania, and Turkey, and many other locations scattered around Europe, Asia, Africa, and of course here in the Middle-East.

Population in this part of the Middle-East is over 172,310,000. that’s over 170 million people, and how many countries is the dealer covering or should be covering right now? They are the Apple dealer in the Mid-East covering Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Yemen. That’s eleven countries for one sole dealer. if you look at the dealers website (search for “Middle-East” on Apple.com, because it’s hard to find) you will find a listing of resellers’ stores that can be easily found on their site but difficult to locate on the ground, claiming they sell Apple products only. Unfortunately this is nothing more then a facade to convince Apple Inc. that ABM is doing a great job by spread Macs. The only official store I saw was placed remotely over a thousand miles away from where I live, in another city, in another country altogether.

So let me tell you what happened to me personally when I went to the “official” MacStore in Dubai, UAE and how I was treated. Please keep in mind that I love Macs so I was very tolerant, although disgusted by the way I was treated. Then imagine what a potential switcher would think.

I walked into the MacStore in Ibn Battuta Mall, which if you look at any Dubai map will find that it’s located at the furthest point from the city’s center. I took a look at all the products they displayed in that tiny store and decided to buy a Mighty Mouse. Peering at the price tag I discover that it was selling for US $70 (AED 260). Isn’t that product suppose to retail for US $49?

I then walked to the so called “Apple genius” to ask him about an issue I had. The guy didn’t know anything, he seemed lost in a single tasking universe, and told me that on Windows XP you can do it by clicking on this and that (he even confessed that he uses Windows, he “gazed” at Macs during his working hours only) Minutes passed by while he squeezed his DOS cluttered brain too hard that his face turned red against my murky yellow smile, his colleague called on him, then I heard the colleague say.

“What are you doing? You’re wasting your time, just ignore him!”

“Ignore ME?!!” I thought? I am a customer. I went to that rude salesperson to ask him about my issue, he said “Listen, get online and look it up on Apple’s website” which clearly sounded like “Buzz off!” to my ears.

Now I don’t know how Apple’ geniuses deal with their customers around the world or at least in the US, but this is how it’s done in Dubai’s orphan MacStore that I’ve been to.

What about Apple’s market place? To be very frank, if it wasn’t for Mac users and fans there would never be any market for Apple products. When I switched I felt like I was the only Mac-user around this part of the world. But then started to get emails from Mac users from all around the region because of the articles of mine published on MyMac.com. It was only then that I got to know that these guys are the ones keeping Apple and the Mac culture alive.

You may ask, how can anyone get a Mac over here? I will tell you how I got mine and when I checked I found out that a lot of new switchers did the same. We pulled out our Windows PCs, surf to Amazon.com (since Apple doesn’t sell to international customers), placed an order, then ship it to an address in the US. That address could either be a relative’s address or a company that you would pay loads of money to receive products on your behalf, then reships them over to you, So you end up paying the full retail price, plus taxes (although you’re going to ship internationally) and then pay the shipping company or relative to send it over to you. When it reaches this side of the globe, you pay customs fees between 5% to 100% depending on where you live for that shiny new computer. Sound pleasant doesn’t it? Well this is how we do it. I got 3 Macs and 5 iPods this way, holding my breath while the Macs (or iPods) are in transit that nothing bad happens to the box while it’s on the way. After I get it in my hands, I kiss Apple’s one year warranty goodbye. If it is defected or was miss-handled on its way I’ll have to live with it.

Apple’s official ambassador in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, decided to take it upon his shoulders to open up an Apple reseller store. The guy invested a lot of money in this venture. He gets Macs from the US the same way individuals do, and sells them with a small fraction over the US retail price for a markup, plus offering his customers a one year warranty just like Apple’s. Why? Because he is a Mac user, and he wants everyone to become Mac users. Buying Macs from his store is cheaper then going through all the hassle and mischief of ordering it from Amazon or any other online retailer.

I tried to find a good excuse for the Mid-East dealer not to be interested in spreading the brand, so I asked Apple’s ambassador about how well his store is doing when it comes to sales. He told me that they sell Macs faster then they get them. “There is a lot of demand! If you don’t reserve a Mac before we place a new order, you won’t be lucky enough to get one.” Said Ayman Ghazzawi, Apple’s ambassador in Jeddah. So there is a demand, and obviously a huge one.

What about Mac support? Now give me a minute to laugh about that and I’ll be back…

There is no real support for Macs here. The only place I would trust would be the ambassador’s store I mentioned, because he is the only one who hired certified Apple help desk specialists.

So why is the official dealer, Arab Business Machines, doing this? Because to them Apple isn’t a big market and they don’t want to invest enough to help spread the brand and gain market shares. They are also not Mac users. I heard a believable rumor that goes; their sales-reps don’t use Macs. The company uses PCs in their offices. Not Macs! I would never buy a Mac if you’re a sales-rep talking to me from behind a PC screen.

Let me give you a quick and simple corporate strategy lesson here. When you want to spread a powerful brand yet new to a market, you shouldn’t look for a big company that will list you as “one of” on their brand collection list they brag about. You should look for someone who’s mid-size or small yet has the passion to do it, to fight for it. Or at least a big company that understands this concept and is willing to designate a full division to achieve this goal. I don’t think this is Apple’s fault. I believe they’ve been mislead. It’s unfortunate that Arab Business Machines doesn’t have any passion to sell Macs. Small resellers have more passion then they do.

If Apple is thinking of getting a new dealer, which I think they should, they have to make sure that the new dealer will contact Mac groups and get their help and support. They are the ones who are spreading Macs around the region, not the current dealer. And they are the same people who I heard saying that they will buy the iPhone in June when it ships in the US whether it has a locked or unlocked SIM.

I wrote this because all of the bitterness I feel when I see how Apple is doing in this part of the world. They are missing out on a big market that offers a lot of opportunities, that Microsoft has blown-away because of their inflated prices. I only know of one person who can make such miracles, Steve Jobs. He did it before numerous times and he can do it again, but I think his Mid-East dealers aren’t giving him a clear and honest perspective on how the true picture looks like around here.

Now if you think I said it all you’re mistaken, this is just the beginning. I’m barely flexing my brain cells, and I will not stop till I make a difference in this region. There’s much, much more to come.

Copyright (c) 2007 Mazen Al-Angary, All rights reserved.

About Mazen Al-Angary


  1. I almost cried 🙁
    why is it that all Mac users are passionate to the brand!?
    it’s really weird, I love Apple so much I surprise myself!

  2. its a shame for a company to put on there website selling display units as if poeple are looking for prices or please we need to buy a MAC !! as written authrized disibutor i had a bad history on my old mac which i bought from EXTRA i took it to arab computers they refused to check my laptop ( employee in service said gray market ) !! after i drove in olya street 30 mins looking for an office which doesnt have APPLE LOGO !!! when i asked no body answered i asked a friend he said apple is still owned to al juraisy group which i really checked http://www.apple.com.sa discovered juraisy name how come they say they are the dealler as for me im back on HP Laptop

  3. Would be much more interesting if this article was written today. So much has happened since then.

  4. this is simply true…
    I never bought any apple product from the local market except for my iPhone
    other than that I just order it from amazon for myself or even my friends
    when paying taxes and shipping fees you’re buying cheaper than the local market and I mean REAL CHEAPER

  5. If I were to bring the latest 27″ iMac via Bahrain (assuming that I bought the iMac from the UK etc), how much taxes am I looking at?

  6. Unfortunately, it’s the same scenario in India too! Apple doesn’t have a solid plan for the highest developing emerging markets like China and India. Mobile companies (Airtel and Vodafone) sell here iPhone 3GS 16GB for $700 plus and 32GB for $800 plus!!! Is that what people call as selling price? I could buy a good PC or decent Laptop with that $800 plus bucks, absolutely retard pricing plans….all this happening here is very much detrimental to the Apple brand value itself. I would definitely write up to the top brass of the Apple US. Hope something works positive…thank you.

    • “Dr Sunil”, the $700/$800 you mention are not far off from what Du and Etisalat charge in UAE for factory unlocked iPhones. I don’t see how they are “absolutely retard”… Are you comparing with US pricing? You can’t really do that as those iPhones are locked and have a 2-year contract requirement. And that price range is where most comparable mobile/smart phones are, not just iPhone.

    • Mr. Magnus, Why shouldn’t we get from Apple when we are getting the world’s best products for the more or less equal or even lesser compared to the United States? Recently I’ve built a high end Workstation, here are few components:

      Intel Core i7-860 Processor – $280 in US and here I got it for $295
      Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 Intel Motherboard – $250 in US and here I got it for $325
      Microsoft Windows 7 Pro 64-bit Full – $275 in US and here I got it for $235 (much cheaper here!!).

      A $199 3G S phone is sold here for more than $700 makes no sense at all, Even imported cars like a BMW or Mercedes don’t attract more than 120% import duty here! All those companies I’ve mentioned above are the world leaders in their own market segments. So, Apple effectively killing its own market in the rapidly emerging economies!

      Hope you can see my point. Thank you.

  7. Dr Sunil, I can see your point but apparently you miss my point. You can’t compare the $199 iPhone 3GS in the US to our prices here, unless the iPhone you buy here is also tied to a 2-year contract and is factory locked. It’s not comparing apples to apples, no pun intended. Even in the US for a factory unlocked iPhone 3GS without a contract you don’t pay $199, you pay a lot more, probably in the region of what you pay.

    • Mr. Magnus, I understood your point too. I hope you didn’t get me wrong and I do use lot of Apple products like iPods, iPhones, MacBookPro and Macs for personal and business purposes. I just couldn’t understand such a wrong business move made by Apple in my country (strategy / partnership).

      What I was hinting was instead of selling for more than $700 here Apple could have used the similar instant hit formula in the lines of Apple & AT&T partnership in the United States. I do understand how they work in the US because I lived there for solid 14 years. Apple has a solid management and excellent sales teams in the US but I couldn’t understand come how did they got it totally wrong – generating tons of business in the world’s 2nd largest mobile market. Apple has a strong brand in this country too but people got blown away with such astronomical pricing comparable only to high-end Nokia N96/97 phones! Apple could have sold in the same way here too but Apple didn’t maybe because they couldn’t convince the local carriers (profit margin sharing) or local carriers wanted to make more money (giving some base price to Apple)….don’t know in the details. End result? Apple brand value got hit!

  8. Hey Mazen…..i can’t thank you enough about spreading awareness about this issue and now ill have to think twice about buyin ‘ an apple product…..I live in Saudi Arabia and here too is the same scenario !!…………………………………….

    • Hamzah, IMHO there’s no need to think twice about buying an Apple product. Although many of Mazen’s points are still valid things have also improved a lot since the article was done. It’s in many ways a different scenario now and most of what’s changed means good news for customers.

    • Unfortunately ABM is absent from this and any other public discussion about the situation with regards to them and Apple in the Middle East. Even though they are the Apple distributor here they very rarely take part in the public discussion going on or even comment on it. I believe that unfortunately just contributes to misunderstandings, miscommunication and overall to a worse situation that could have been.

  9. Thanks Hamzah, glad you liked it.

  10. Dr Sunil, you write “What I was hinting was instead of selling for more than $700 here Apple could have used the similar instant hit formula in the lines of Apple & AT&T partnership in the United States.”

    It might be worth keeping in mind that Apple’s partnership with AT&T has been anything but smooth. Also, as you know, the iPhone’s low sticker price in US is because customers are tied to a 2-year contract. I doubt same would work in UAE and I’m guessing also in India. At least in UAE, people are not used to being tied to contracts. When Etisalat launched iPhone 3G in Feb 2009 there were a lot of people who didn’t want to buy it because it was attached to a 1-year contract. I can only imaging if that was instead a 2-year contract.

    I don’t think that just because something works in US it means it’ll work in other places.

  11. For the iPhone: It is not only the UAE which have these “retarded” pricing. If I am not mistaken in Germany, Apple had to offer a unlocked iPhone [due to trust regulations] and it was around 900 Euros!
    The carrier most of the time just pays for the phone – in return you pay a quite high fee monthly [this concept Etisalat has as well – but most people don’t take it!].

    Anyway – I actually found long time ago [sorry that I didn’t read and posted this before] a reliable shop in Dubai. It is called ProTech [Sheikh Zayed Road – close to Masaya Center], they guys are using Macs – are totally friendly – they sell Macs with warranty, they also repair Macs and are totally courteous! 
    The prices are still very high, as they explained me, that they get their Macs from Europe [there is a large Apple distribution center in Ireland]; and the prices are really hardly more expensive as in Europe. So no real complaints [only: Apple could finally bring the prices worldwide on US level!!!].

    Absolutely ridiculous, are the grey market prices for iPhones and iPads!
    Last weekend I found already a shop selling the iPhone 4 – for AED 7000.00!!!!!!
    This is almost U$ 2000!!!!
    There is a huge phone and iPad market here – but the prices are just crazy.
    In Carrefour a iPad costs little less than AED 4000! I love the concept – but I am not stupid enough to buy it now [waiting for the official release date here in the ME or maybe for the next version].
    Unfortunately ProTech only has official products – and not grey imports – however against your experiences it is just great to go there [only disadvantage is, that it isn’t in a shopping mall].


  12. Zune and iPod: Most people compare the Zune to the Touch, but after seeing how slim and surprisingly small and light it is, I consider it to be a rather unique hybrid that combines qualities of both the Touch and the Nano. It’s very colorful and lovely OLED screen is slightly smaller than the touch screen, but the player itself feels quite a bit smaller and lighter. It weighs about 2/3 as much, and is noticeably smaller in width and height, while being just a hair thicker.

  13. عبدالرحمن

    والله شي غريب أن  لنا في السعودية فترة نستعمل الابل وليس لنا وكيل او ستور او اي شيءعربي

  14. Many many quality points there.

  15. Please keep on posting such articles as this is a rare thing to find these days. I am always searching online for texts that can help me much.


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