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Decoding the UAE Smartphone Usage

3 minute read | June 2014

UAE Smartphone Users Are Totally Integrating Them Into Their Everyday Behaviour

DUBAI – June 17, 2014 – Smartphones have become central to consumer’s lives and are an inseparable twin for most. With 78 percent of people in the UAE owning at least one smartphone, the country has easily one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the region, according to a Smartphone Insights study from Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and insights into what consumers watch and buy. Gender disparity in smartphone penetration is not evident in the UAE but differences by nationality are more obvious. Penetration among UAE nationals is 85 percent compared to other nationalities with 75 percent. “Emiratis are known to be early adopters and trend-setters. The ripple effect of a brand choice or a technology trend adopted by the local population is very significant,” says Aditya Gokhale, Executive Director Telecom at Nielsen. 


According to the Nielsen findings, they use them for almost everything. For starters, UAE consumers are avid users of the internet from their smartphones – almost one in two youth’s access the internet via their mobile phones more than five times a day.

Although traditional communication functions like Calls, SMS and Email dominate the usage, Instant Messaging and Social Networking will be just as popular in the near future. WhatsApp is the most popular app in the IM space, followed by Facebook and Skype. Women are more active in using chat apps (76%) compared to men (69%).

Smartphone usage also affects the handling of other screens. Behavior whilst watching TV is changing due to high engagement with smartphones – 47 percent of UAE smartphone users claim that they access digital content while watching TV. Coupled with the high usage of video content accessed via mobile phones (73%), it is clear to see that UAE residents are converging their TV and mobile worlds.


Using applications to access websites dominates the browsing pattern of UAE smartphone users. 55 percent of them used an application to access a website, compared to just 17 percent who accessed the same websites via the browser of their phones. Music (30%), Videos (27%), Photography (25%) are the most used app categories after social networking (67%). However, usage and download is limited to free applications. Only 15 percent of smartphone owners have purchased apps.


Tremendous opportunities exist in the areas of mobile advertising and mobile shopping as smartphone users in the UAE are still only warming up to both of them. Currently the main source of mobile ad recall is still SMS based advertising. Other mechanisms such as ‘in-apps’ or online games and location based functions are yet to make an impact on the consumer memory. Likewise, mobile commerce has not taken off in a big way in UAE yet, 5 percent or less actually made a purchase using their mobile phone. Having said that, about 19 percent of smartphone users use their devices as part of their shopping habit – to browse and compare products.

So how can brands push products through mobile channels and increase purchases? “We believe there is a long way to go and this presents itself as a huge opportunity for marketers,” said Gokhale. “Consumers will continue to stretch the limits of what they can do on their phones and shopping isn’t too far. Attractive mobile advertising formats have a role to play to grow attention and spur sales. Exciting times lie ahead in the smartphone space,” concluded Aditya Gokhale

About the Nielsen Smartphone Insights

Nielsen Smartphone Insights is a syndicated survey providing detailed understanding of smartphone and feature phone users and revealing the challenges and opportunities that exist as the mobile landscape continues to evolve. The fieldwork for Saudi Arabia and UAE was conducted in Q1’2014. It was conducted through face-2-face interviews.
Saudi Arabia:  A total of 1791 contacts were made to know the incidence of smartphone. Final sample achieved covered both smartphone and non-smartphone users.
United Arab Emirates:  A total of 1505 contacts were made to know the incidence of smartphone. Final sample achieved covered both smartphone and non-smartphone users.

Press Contact: 
Silke Trost,, +971 554986257