Since the mobile revolution first began in Africa, there has been discussion of the potential for low-cost, locally made smartphones tailored to the African market.
Mint Electronics a subsidiary of the South African company Sekoko Holdings, which has recently taken a 75% share in CZ Electronics, is due to launch the first ever line of South African-made smartphones and tablets. CZ Electronics has spent the last two years working on the line, and invested around R10m ($944,000) on research and development for the range.
The firm hopes to capitalise on the huge untapped market for smartphones – with just 18% of South Africans owning one – with price being a major barrier. The smartphones will retail at between R600 to R1,499 ($57 to $142) and there will be both seven- and 10-inch screen versions of the tablets.
This is compared with the iPhone range, which typically cost $1,000 without a contract and the Samsung Galaxy, which retails at around $800.
“The smartphones and tablets will be sold through major retailers, operator stores and our branded shops. The branded shops will launch in all major malls by the end of 2014,” according to Sagran Pillay, the CEO of CZ Electronics.
CZ Electronics ultimately aims to set up manufacturing arms in African countries and sell the phones across the region. The ambitious company has a formidable task on its hands if its range is to make an impact on the market. In order for the smartphone range to succeed it will need to have the same or superior specifications to international brands at the same time as being cheaper.
It is not the first time that there has been talk of African-made low-cost smartphones and tablets. In 2011, during an Africa Web Summit in Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo, the CEO of VMK, Verone Mankou, launched the Tablet Way-C.
Although there were reports of the product being manufactured in Congo, it later emerged that the product is Chinese-made, with the company paying the manufacturers a fee to add their own brand. Nonetheless, the price is low at $170 for the smartphone and the tablet retailing at $300.
Back in January 2013, Safaricom also launched the Yolo smartphone, which is Intel-powered and retails at around $129. In 2012, the South African firm, Wise Tablets, came up with low-cost tablets, starting at $163 for the Wi-Fi-only seven-inch model. A game-changing range of locally made smartphones or tablets to really shake up the market has continued to elude Africa, however.
The market for smartphones in Africa is certainly on the increase, however, which should only spur local companies to innovate and come up with phones that are cheap enough to get more Africans to buy them. According to Informa UK’s Africa Telecoms Outlook, by 2017 almost a third of the African population will have smartphones with around 334m smartphone connections.
Market intelligence firm IDC’s projection is more conservative and it anticipates that smartphone penetration in Africa will double from the current 18% by 2017.
However, taking into account the dramatic growth in basic mobile phone penetration in Africa – from 6% to 40%, from 2003 to 2008, and a new report on mobile penetration in Africa claiming that it hit 80% in the first quarter of this year and is still growing at 4.2% annually, many feel that a sharp and dramatic uptake of smartphones should not be ruled out either.