Light weight, portable, convenient, ultra-mobile and sleek are some of the adjectives that have been used to qualify the recent gizmo fad among techies -- the Tablet computer. Tablet computers are a cross between a laptop and a mobile phone, offering all or some of the features of both devices.
Tablet devices, especially Apple’s iPad, took the world by storm and is presently the topmost must-have device among the business class and technologically perceptive individuals. Initially, with much of the tablet computers in the market selling for over $300, many who would have loved to switch to the new technology considered the price prohibitive.
However, with the launch of Amazon Inc’s Kindle Fire, which retails at a mass market friendly $199; most analysts have begun predicting a drastic fall in the price of tablets as competition heats up. Lower prices will ultimately lead to desirability-fuelled purchases, especially in the west where there is already very high penetration of smart phones and laptop computers.
In truth, much of the analyses around Tablet computer market performances have been done without recourse to the African market. As market projections focuses on the Asian, European, South American and US markets, not many people are looking at how much of an impact the pocket friendly Kindle Fire and its kind would have on the ever growing African Phone and computer market.
Jumping the technological divide
While the present market of tablet computers in Africa is centred on middle class professionals and business executives, there exists a vast market that decreasing prices will in time open up.
Thankfully, everyone is now aware of African mobile telephone revolution, which saw more people in the continent connected to telephones in the last decade than the whole of the preceding century. Presently, Africa is unarguably the fastest-growing mobile phone market in the world.
According to statistics from the International telecommunication Union (ITU), with an annual growth rate of 65 per cent, Africa’s mobile telephone subscription grows at twice the global average. The continent is also the first place where mobile connections superseded that of fixed line connections. The reason for this is not farfetched as prevailing financial downturn in many African states makes mobile technology a cheaper alternative to conventional telephone that requires telephone cables, poles and many other facilities to function. By adopting mobile technology, African states succeeded in not only making it easier for their citizens to access the pleasures of information technology, they also successfully bridged the information divide by jumping the large gap between it and advanced societies.
In Nigeria, South Africa and others, the progresses made as a result of mobile technology is immense and the potential market for mobile phones is still enormous, however, the question might be asked about the validity of claims that Africa may become one of the top market for tablets computers. Respondents, looking at the status of the purchasing power of the average African, might answer in the negative, but with reference to the mobile phone and how easily the technology was adopted across the continent, a more positive answer would readily come to mind.
Power saving, portability are factors
Looking closely at the African market, one would find that given a choice between a laptop computer and a desktop computer, most tech savvy people would go for the laptop. Yes, portability is a catalyst, but so also is the fact that the laptop comes with a rechargeable battery that allows users to work for hours on stored power.
Power is still a very critical issue across the African continent and the nature of tablet computers, the fact that they have the power storage ability of the mobile phone and laptops, is a top selling point.
It is instructive to note that that same factor that enabled consumers in Africa to extensively adopt mobile phones would also play a part in the incursion of tablet computers. With the average tablet computer having more portability than any laptop computer in the market, while retaining all of the laptops ability, there is no gainsaying that fact that most buyers would consider it a better option than the laptop.
Therefore, it would make very good business sense for manufacturers to key into the African market and take advantage of the millions of users who are seeking a portable device that can grant them all the technology of the mobile phone and the laptop computer.
What to watch out for
Unlike what holds in the developed world, where desirability plays a greater factor in the tablet market than need, the African market is overflowing with first-time buyers for whom the choice would be a matter of price and practicability.
With 3G penetration still at a very low percentage across Africa, sensory and technological aspects of tablets need not be a major issue. It is a given that tablet computers may have to be tailor made for the African environment, especially by paying close attention to the following details.
Power: a longer lasting battery would be of great attraction due to the endemic power outages that remain the norm in many African countries.
Price: while it is true that many people across the continent are buying high-end phones, much of the population are concentrating on the more affordable entry-level versions, or buying second-hand phones imported from Europe, the Americas and Asia. For the ready market for tablet computers to be effectively harnessed, the prices of the device must be reduced drastically, even lower than Amazon’s low priced Kindle Fire.
Scaled down versions: reduction of prices might be a hard nut to crack for tablet computer makers who have had to invest a lot of resources on research and development, but like Amazon did with Kindle Fire, scaling down the devices by removing some features might do the trick. The key is the billions of people in Africa eagerly awaiting connection to telephone lines and consequently, the internet.
Specialised adaptations: while it may make sense to remove features that may be redundant in Africa, it also makes better sense to include practicable features. For example, Nokia reported that the inclusion of a flashlight, FM radio and local language options pushed sales of entry-levels in many African countries.
Though, at present, content might be overrated or negated by very slow internet speed, the berthing of more submarine cables and the connection of that to the growing number of fibre optic cables between cities in Africa means that will remain an issue for long. Something that manufacturers should pay heed to.
Most importantly, there is a need for manufacturers to commit recourses into researching the African market and coming up with advertisement policies that will better sell their products to the millions of potential customers in Africa, especially now that the question of whether there is a ready market for information technology in the continent have been answered.
By Mazi Nwonwu
Article previously published in Business in Africa magazine www.bizinafrica.biz