By Nirit Ben-Ari
Tablets, which are light mobile computers, are currently in vogue. Because they are handy and easy to use, tablets are especially popular with students, businesspeople and professionals. Apple’s iPads lead the way in the tablet market in North America and Europe, but not in Africa. 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, Mr. 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, Mr. 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”.