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Forget Facebook, UAE residents prefer WhatsApp to connect

UAE’s telecom operators have been quick to block the feature, citing regulatory compliance. (Getty Images)

By Vicky Kapur

A new study reveals that, thanks to constant connectivity and digital media, UAE residents are one of the most socially engaged people in the world.

According to findings from TNS’s Connected Life study, UAE residents are communicating across social media channels up to five hours a day, and are fast to follow trends.

The study in fact maintains that the UAE ranks ahead of many ‘mature’ markets, particularly when it comes to device-driven services. Recently published results of the study also show UAE users are heavily influenced by what they see and read on digital and social channels, with an increasing number emerging as engaging influencers themselves.

“Internet users in the UAE are very active communicators and many are attracting followers across a variety of channels, including direct communications via instant messaging, email, and video/voice calls,” says Stephen Hillebrand, CEO, Middle East, TNS, a custom market research firm.

“Facebook and YouTube the top contenders, but it is the new-kid-on-the block, WhatsApp that is emerging as the most favoured communication platform of the moment,” he adds.

“UAE consumers are very open to using mobile devices to support lifestyle. Examples include the monitoring of personal data like exercise, connecting the car or home to other devices or the internet, using a 3D printer, and even using wearable technology, such as a smart watch,” says Hillebrand. 

The study also identifies that adults across the country own at least four devices each, bringing the UAE in line with the global average. This, combined with demand for TV and video content on-the-go, is fuelling the rise of multi-screening or ‘screen-stacking’ behaviour – the use of multiple digital devices at the same time; a relationship that looks to be growing steadily.

Nevertheless, smartphone device ownership in the UAE is over-indexed, meaning consumers own more smartphones compared to the rest of the world, the study notes.

The study shows UAE users as spending an average of five hours a day on devices, whether it is mobile, tablet, PC or laptop. 

“Drilling down, it suggests that although males own more devices, all the users see the internet as an essential source of information and are quick to adopt new technologies,” Hillebrand said.

Despite this surge in online consumption, though, traditional TV sets still play a huge part in our lives, with a vast majority (86 per cent) of UAE respondents sitting in front of the box every day. 

“Online devices are offering more ways to access TV and video content, meaning that brands will need to adopt a more integrated marketing online approach in order to engage consumers,” Hillebrand concluded.

The Connected Life study tracked over 55,000 internet users across 50 countries, including in UAE, looking at the digital attitudes and behaviours while exploring how technology is changing the lives of consumers.