Apple Holding Discussions With Saudi Arabian Government to Open Retail Store in 2019

Apple could debut its first retail location within Saudi Arabia as soon as 2019, thanks to the government's current push towards a "high-tech look" for the country. Reuters reports today that officials in Saudi Arabia's capital of Riyadh -- including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- are currently in licensing discussions with both Apple and Amazon in an effort to entice major technology companies into the country.

Apple is rumored to be talking with SAGIA, Saudi Arabia's foreign investment authority, and a licensing agreement for Apple's retail stores with the authority is expected to come by February 2018. The first location would then be targeted for an opening in 2019.

Image of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia via Wikimedia Commons
Apple and Amazon are in licensing discussions with Riyadh on investing in Saudi Arabia, two sources told Reuters, part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s push to give the conservative kingdom a high-tech look.

A licensing agreement for Apple stores with SAGIA is expected by February, with an initial retail store targeted for 2019, said two sources familiar with the discussions.
Amazon's cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services, is said to be leading the company's discussions with Saudi Arabian officials. The talks are believed to be in "earlier stages" than Apple's, with no specific time frame given for Amazon's investment plans in the country.

The Saudi Arabian government's regulations previously placed heavy limits on foreign ownership of businesses, preventing companies like Apple and Amazon from coming to the country. In the past two years, however, falling crude oil prices "highlighted the need to diversify" the country's dependency on oil within its economy, leading to courting technology companies.

Evidence of this came in September, when Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on services that provide access to calling someone over the internet, including Apple's FaceTime. The ban was enacted in 2013 and began due to the government's fear of non-secure internet communication among its residents, but was lifted this year in the country's new efforts to "attract more business" to its economy.

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Saudi Arabia Lifts Ban on FaceTime and Other Video/Voice Calling Apps

Saudi Arabia today lifted a ban on services that provide access to calling someone over the internet, part of government efforts attempting to attract more business to the country. This means that "all online voice and video call services," including Apple's FaceTime, Microsoft's Skype, and Facebook's WhatsApp, opened up for user access last night at midnight (via Reuters).


These apps and services previously faced harsh regulations in Saudi Arabia with a ban that began in 2013, due to the government's wariness over secure internet communication. Now, users in the country will be able to FaceTime friends and family members, with the Saudi information ministry stating this should help "kick-start" the country's economy after recently being hit by low oil prices.
Saudi Arabia will lift a ban on internet phone calls, a government spokesman said, part of efforts to attract more business to the country. All online voice and video call services such as Microsoft’s Skype and Facebook’s WhatsApp that satisfy regulatory requirements will become accessible at midnight (2100 GMT), Adel Abu Hameed, spokesman for the telecoms regulator CITC said on Twitter on Wednesday.

“Digital transformation is one of the key kick-starters for the Saudi economy, as it will incentivise the growth of internet-based businesses, especially in the media and entertainment industries,” a statement from the information ministry said. “Access to VoIP (voice over internet protocol) will reduce operational costs and spur digital entrepreneurship – that’s why it is such an important step in the Kingdom’s internet regulation,” it said.
The Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission also published a press release [Google Translate] on the ban's lifting.

According to a tipster's email this morning, because iPhones sold in Saudi Arabia have had FaceTime completely blocked in the past, these devices will need some kind of carrier update in order to enable the feature. In response, local carriers are reportedly saying that this update is Apple's responsibility, so it's unclear when such an update will occur.


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