iPads versus locally made tablets

Tablets, which are light mobile computers, are in vogue. Because they are handy and easy to use, tablets are especially popular with students, businesspeople and professionals.

There is so much focus on Africa as a place to invest and to build businesses … and there is no reason why you couldn’t have multi-million dollar software companies coming out of here

Tech industry analysts say that most Africans cannot afford the up to $700 price tag for an iPad in African capitals although a growing number of those in the middle-class desire high-quality tablets.

Encipher, a Nigerian tech company, is hoping to plunge into this niche by selling a locally made tablet for half iPad’s price—$350.

Inye tablet is the brainchild of Saheed Adepoju, a young Nigerian entrepreneur and founder of Encipher, a company that deals in computer products and services.

First released in 2010, Inye, which means ‘one’ in the Nigerian Ingala language, runs on Android 2.1 and allows users to connect to the internet by means of an inbuilt Wi-Fi card.

Inye tablets also function with external 3G modems from GSM networks.

Encipher unveiled an upgraded Inye-2 in 2011.

The newer model has a 9.7inch soft-touch screen with a battery lifespan of six hours.

It runs on Android 2.2 and, like the previous version, allows a user to connect to the internet through an inbuilt SIM card.

For many Nigerians, the main attraction is that a tablet considered nearly as good as an iPad sells for just $350.

However, even with such a low price, sales have been disappointing.

The reason for low sales, Adepoju explained to CNN last year, is that Nigeria lacks widespread broadband connections to guarantee speedy connectivity.

The country’s Internet connectivity is currently very slow and unreliable.

Analysts believe that even if they cannot afford $700 for an iPad, there are many Africans who are hooked to Apple’s strong brand and may well prefer to save more for an iPad than purchase a locally made product.

But as Nigeria currently expands its broadband infrastructure, Adepoju believes Inye’s sales could soon be boosted.

In neighboring Ghana, 28-year old Derrick Addae, chief executive office of GIL Corporation, a tech company, has invented the ‘G’ Slab, a pocket PC tablet that aims to rival Apple’s iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy.

The ‘G’ Slab can make phone calls, has a built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Microsoft word, and is equipped with most of iPad’s functions.

These kinds of innovations pave the path for more Africa-based technologies.

“Could the next Google come from Africa?” asks Richard Tanksley, entrepreneur and senior faculty member at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology in Accra, reports the Guardian, a British daily.

He believes “There is so much focus on Africa as a place to invest and to build businesses … and there is no reason why you couldn’t have multi-million dollar software companies coming out of here”.

Smartphones and Tablets for Africa

Early 2012, excitement greeted news that Vérone Mankou, the 26-year old entrepreneur from the Republic of Congo, has designed Africa’s first smartphone and a tablet, the hand-held computer that comes with a touch screen.

Mankou’s tech company, VMK, designed the sleek smartphone and tablet, which was originally conceived in 2006 as an affordable computer to give Africans access to Internet.

The devices run on Google’s Android software and are assembled in China, making some technology analysts question Mankou’s assertion that these were the first African touchpad tablet and smartphone.

In response to such criticism, Mankou writes on his website, “We are somewhat offended by the disregard of those who persist in denying the authentication of our products, despite evidence.”

To reinforce the Made-in-Africa claim, Mankou named his smartphone Elikia, for “hope” in Congolese Lingala dialect. The official name for the tablet is Way-C, and it comes with wireless internet connectivity and four gigabytes of internal storage.

Elikia has rear and forward-facing cameras and a 3.5in (8.9cm) screen, 512MB of RAM, and a 650MHz processor.

Mankou plans to sell the devices across African countries as well as in Belgium, France and India. VMK’s smartphone will have to compete against established brands such as Blackberry and Nokia, while the tablet has to face Apple’s iPad, Samsung Galaxy and others.

About his smartphone, Mankou says, “We wanted to place on the market a quality smartphone with the same capacities as the others, while ensuring that it’s a product which is accessible to all.”

Mankou hopes to rely on pan-African sentiments. There appears to be an increasing desire among some in Africa to support homegrown products.

Recently, for instance, there was a minor incident with app purchasing when Google Play did not accept credit cards issued in the Congo.

VMK announced its own app store with apps “developed by Africans for Africa” and prepaid gift cards to give Africans a similar experience.

Several technology bloggers in Africa believe VMK’s devices, which are currently available through telecom carrier Airtel with the possible addition of MTN and Warid, could still expand their reach and compete on the international market.

The Congolese entrepreneur has set big ambitions for his devices, “Apple is huge in the US, Samsung is huge in Asia, and we want VMK to be huge in Africa,” he says.

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