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Why Apple CEO visited Dubai

Apple CEO Tim Cook reaches for iPhone as he speaks at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco on June 10, 2013. Apple unveiled its hotly anticipated iTunes Radio Service, as the iconic maker of the iPhone moved to challenge streaming music operators like Pandora and Spotify. (AFP)

By Vicky Kapur

Nope, it isn’t because the weather this time of the year is fantastic here in Dubai – it even rained yesterday, but that wasn’t why Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was here. And no, he didn’t come just to pay a visit to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, although that was on the agenda as well.

The real reason why Cook was here – was pure business

The most popular reason being touted around on social media is that he came to scout for locations to open Apple's first flagship store in Dubai. While Apple may indeed be considering - in fact, it must soon - opening Apple Stores here, we think it's a bit ridiculous to assume that the Apple CEO came office-hunting and nothing more. 

The real reason is much bigger. A couple of weeks ago, we quoted the Group COO of the UAE's biggest private school educator saying that, in the next five to 10 years, textbooks will become irrelevant as they will be replaced by the same resources in an online format. Read: Educational gadgets to replace textbooks in 5-10 years, says UAE's biggest school group.

Of course, the news coincided with Intel’s announcement of the launch of its student-only ‘Education Tablet’ that is based on the Android platform, which is rival to Apple’s iOS platform. But Apple is not far behind – or even behind – in the race to replace the book.

In a recent move announcing the expansion of its textbooks project, Apple maintained that its iBooks Textbooks, which offers interactive digital textbooks, is now available in 51 countries. And the iTunes U Course Manager, an online tool that lets teachers to create and distribute courses for their own classrooms, or share them publicly, on the iTunes U app, is now available in 70 countries.

“The incredible content and tools available for iPad provide teachers with new ways to customise learning unlike ever before,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, said in a PR statement. “We can’t wait to see how teachers in even more countries will create their new lesson plans with interactive textbooks, apps and rich digital content.”

A quick look at our crystal ball (okay, okay, forecasts by industry experts) reveals that if there’s anything that can come even close to beating the growth in wearable technology in the next few years, it is classroom technology. Going by the sheer numbers of schools across the world that is currently making the switch to becoming smart schools, it’s a huge segment that’s waiting to explode – and it will once critical mass is achieved.

That is what will give the Apples and the Samsungs of the world their next wave of high-volume customer base.

Okay, we’ve established that Dubai and the UAE in general is moving towards online education, and Apple’s iBooks Textbooks and iTunes U Course Manager are fiercely competing with Android-based offerings to garner the biggest global market share of this even sunnier segment of the sunrise IT sector.

But how important is Dubai in the global scheme of things for Apple? It is very important – and growing in importance by the day – when you consider that it is the world’s window to the Middle East – a region with more than 400 million in population, of which at least half are students. Add Africa to that equation, and the combined population jumps to 1.5 billion. If you consider Dubai’s re-export abilities – and therefore add India the equation – the number just doubles to 3 billion.