An emerging tablet market; investors should act swiftly

An emerging tablet market; investors should act swiftly

Tablets have significant potential in developing nations as gateways to initial economic and social digitization.

Tablet devices are thriving in western markets; Apple, Samsung, Google, Kindle to list but a few of the big industry names. As practical, portable and easy to use gadgets they have quickly become widely popular. Most notably, they have succeeded in the west as a useful addition to our ever increasing inventory of ‘technological offspring’. In general, they are used as tools for browsing, researching, social networking and information sharing, whilst our more active computer usage remains on our laptops or PCs. However, with respect to developing countries, tablets have the potential to become a powerful instrument for change.

Chronos Android Tablet

Many emerging market users go online for the first time through hand-held devices (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

Internet usage is spreading rapidly across the African continent. Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Sudan and Tanzania are posited as the nations with the highest internet usage in Sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 28% of Kenyan and Nigerian citizens are active internet users and while internet usage is spreading, the technology is also improving. Kenya, for example, saw its overall internet bandwidth increased eleven-fold in 2011 thanks to the introduction of fibre optic international submarine cables, limiting dependency on satellites. Broadly speaking, these technological advances are creating a much more hospitable environment for ICT companies to develop within.

At the same time as a suitable investment environment emerges, tablet devices are being hailed for their potential to foster social change across the continent. The tablet has numerous characteristics that could help assist social development in many African regions. For example, the ‘MobiUS TC1 tablet system’, a portable ultrasound device that is plugged into a tablet, is a low cost, convenient and innovative healthcare initiative. Ultrasound images are taken and then shared through the tablet device leading to faster medical examinations and remote diagnosis.

Likewise, tablets demonstrate great educational potential. A recent study by the ‘One Laptop per Child’ organisation provided two groups of illiterate school children in remote Ethiopian villages with tablet devices. Results showed that in mere months illiterate children not only learnt to navigate the devices, but also developed numeracy and literacy skills. If tablet technology can help in places where healthcare and educational infrastructure is limited, it would seem appropriate to assume that tablet devices may be able to harness environmental, economic and even political development also.

Regardless of the market suitability and the potential for wide ranging social change, to successfully tap into emerging African markets the technology needs to be affordable, a value which the tablet directly targets. Datawind, a British company, has made a name for itself through manufacturing affordable tablets. Their first tablet, ‘Aakash’, was sold in India for a mere $60. Innovations are coming from within Africa also. VMK, a company based in the Congo, has created the ‘Way-C’ tablet. It has a 4GB memory and is constructed in China and sold in the Congo for $300. Whilst this may seem fairly expensive particularly in relation to the Congolese GDP, regional instability has meant that few investors risk entering Congolese markets, making VMK increasingly successful.

With a combination of market hospitality, potential to harness social development and low-cost production, tablet technology has the potential to take successful new steps in the developing world. Sub-Saharan Africa may provide markets in which the tablet can become a groundbreaking piece of technology. However, investors are under pressure to act fast. With technology transfer set to be the next phase in Africa-China relations, as agreed during the fifth forum on China Africa Cooperation last July, it looks like China will, once again, be the primary beneficiary of Africa’s emerging markets.

About Author