iPhone 4 App Disappears in UAE

FaceTime has been removed from iPhone 4 devices sold in the UAE.
iPhone 4 App Disappears in UAE
Slacker Radio provides a much larger music library for iPhone users. (Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images)
9/26/2010
Updated:
10/1/2015

<a><img src="https://www.theepochtimes.com/assets/uploads/2015/09/103952138iphone.jpg" alt="iPhone 4 App, FaceTime, a feature that allows video calling over the Internet, has been removed from iPhone 4 devices sold in the UAE. (Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images)" title="iPhone 4 App, FaceTime, a feature that allows video calling over the Internet, has been removed from iPhone 4 devices sold in the UAE. (Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images)" width="320" class="size-medium wp-image-1813631"/></a>
iPhone 4 App, FaceTime, a feature that allows video calling over the Internet, has been removed from iPhone 4 devices sold in the UAE. (Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images)
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—They had queued for hours in Dubai’s glimmering malls to buy a new iPhone 4, but when the thousands of Apple devotees unwrapped their beloved new smartphones on Saturday, they were greeted with a nasty surprise.

A much-touted app, available on the handset everywhere else in the world, was strangely absent from the devices sold in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over the weekend.

FaceTime, a feature that allows video calling over the Internet, has been removed from iPhone 4 devices sold in the UAE, according to a statement by Du, one of the country’s two state-owned telecos.

“Our iPhone 4 customers won’t be able to make FaceTime calls, as the feature is currently unavailable in the UAE,” the company said in a Twitter posting.

“There’s little we can do about it, but we'll keep you posted in case of further updates,” it added.

The reasons behind the removal of the feature may lie in the similarity between FaceTime and Skype—a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service, which is blocked by the country’s communications watchdog.

It was reported that local officials are in talks with Apple over whether the feature should be included on iPhone 4 devices sold in the UAE.

“Currently we are in discussions with them about this feature in particular,” said Khalifa al Shamsi, vice president of marketing for consumer products at Etisalat, in comments to local daily The National.

“It’s a UAE-level discussion,” he added.

Apple was unavailable for comment on the issue on Sunday, as was the country’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).

It also emerged that the feature is absent from handsets sold in Qatar. A spokesperson from Vodafone in that country said that they were in talks with Apple and the matter was being treated as “urgent.”

It is believed that the removal of the feature was to avoid complications later. The TRA is currently locked in negotiations with Research in Motion (RIM) over a possible ban on key BlackBerry smartphone services from Oct. 11.

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Officials are concerned over BlackBerry owing the high encryption used on the device, which local censors are unable to intercept.

On Sunday, Mohammed al-Bawardi, secretary general at the executive council in Abu Dhabi, told reporters that the UAE was “very optimistic” over a resolution to the row.

Even if RIM grants the UAE legal access to its servers and avoids the deadline, however, the firm will have already lost a large percentage of the lucrative smartphone market in the modern Middle Eastern state.

Although the UAE is among the most liberal countries in the Middle East, having a large Western and South Asian expatriate population, it maintains tight control over the Internet.

Pornography is strictly filtered, and e-mail communications are routinely monitored to guard national security.

Moreover, Skype—a program that allows for free calls between computers and cheap calls to international landlines—was banned in the UAE in 2005.

Analysts believe the ban was based purely on economics. The two state-owned telecos Etisalat and Du have both said over the last year that they are working on alternative programs to Skype, which would work on a tariff rate.

In March this year, Skype CEO Josh Silverman told a media summit in Abu Dhabi that the ban on the program was “shortsighted.”

“When a government acts to protect a legacy of a profit pool, it’s usually not in the interest of the economy or the people,” he said.

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