Monday, January 10, 2011

March of the Androids

android_appsEarly last year when the iPad arrived on the scene, my African iPad series imagined what an Africa-specific tablet would be like and concluded with a concept of a tablet that ran on Google’s mobile OS, Android. Now, in January 2011, three Android tablets are prominent right now in the Nigerian market. The Samsung Galaxy Tab, the Starcomms MyPad and Encipher Group’s Inye.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab is being marketed via a partnership between Samsung Nigeria and Etisalat. The Galaxy Tab is the world’s most successful android tablet so far. At 7 inches, it is significantly smaller than the iPad, but that is what some people like about it, and you can make calls from it without going through a special VOIP app like Skype. Coming from one of the top electronics companies on the planet, the device has the characteristic Samsung quality and very nice specs (available here). It’s being offered at 125,000 naira which includes 250MB of internet data, free calling minutes and free text messages per month for 12 months.

Starcomms should be commended for creating their so-called MyPad. This device is a self-branded Android tablet so clearly meant to be a “Nigerian iPad” that they named it after the Apple product and even use an image of the iPad on their marketing products (which is rather silly). It must be said that Starcomms continues to be the local telco that stretches its boundaries and thinks outside the box. Unless the promo is over, they are offering a deal at 75,000 naira that includes the MyPad with their new wireless izap modem with 250 hours of unlimited internet data valid for three months. By itself, the MyPad is 55,000 naira.

Then there’s the Inye. If the Galaxy Tab and the MyPad got married and had a child it would be the Inye. This 7 inch Nigerian-branded Android tablet retails for 45,000 naira and the specs are available on the product page.

I’m not one to do feature by feature comparisons or in-depth product reviews, but I will say what strikes me the most about these 3 products. I think the Inye stands apart from the others. In creating this product, Saheed Adepoju and Anibe Agamah come closest to the clarity of vision Steve Jobs has for the iPad or the Googlers have for the Android platform.

Ultimately Etisalat and Starcomms are telecommunications companies, Nigerian telecommunications companies at that. Their business is to get people making phone calls and browsing the internet charging airtime by the second and internet time by the kilobyte. Consequently I think they will treat the Galaxy Tab and the MyPad just like handsets and PCs. In a sense they are complete devices in themselves and all Etisalat and Starcomms have to do is market them vigorously and watch the money roll in (or not, if the populace doesn’t bite). Despite having their name on it, at the end of the day it’s one product in their list of products and services. It says a lot that Starcomms doesn’t have a product page for their tablet. Never mind, Etisalat who have no stake real stake with the Samsung and could easily add the Motorola Xoom, the Apple iPad or indeed the Inye to their stable without blinking an eye.

Not so the Inye. This tablet is a platform effort as evidenced by several initiatives by Encipher Group. For one thing, they plan for an App store akin to the Android Market or the Apple App store where you and I can find specifically relevant apps for Nigeria and Africa. This app store will bundle in mobile payment systems native to Africa to enable users purchase apps and developers monetise. Secondly, very early in the development cycle, Encipher Group’s Saheed Adepoju began to engage the Nigerian tech community focusing on winning the hearts and minds of these early adopters and I think the input of this group may have helped shape what this product will eventually look like. Thirdly they are partnering with content providers whose business is bringing the technology to African culture and African culture to technology. Lastly, they have a full supply chain system in the works with customer support. In other words, they are committed to shaping this product to the environment it is designed for.

Of course their success is not assured, Samsung is, well, Samsung and a lot of Nigerians really don’t have confidence in Nigeria-branded electronics, though the lower price may make it attractive. Furthermore, Etisalat, Samsung and Starcomms have deep pockets and wide distribution networks already in place that really won’t cost them anything extra to leverage on for their tablets. However, the Inye has one thing I believe the others are lacking and that is depth. Inye is being shaped to be a 21st century computing device that resonates with the Nigerians. It will be uniquely ours. It might well be the Nigerian iPad. Having said that, they may want to explore partnering with a Telco like Samsung did to create a bundle of some sort, though I would be surprised if they are more interested in maintaining a distance from the Airtels and MTNs.

Time will tell of course. With the ease of churning out Android-based devices, all three will need to stand out among a deluge of devices that will hit the global and local market this year and it will be a monumental effort for either the MyPad and the Inye not to be lost in the crowd. They will need to find a way to hook into our lives and for the moment at least, the Inye has the better strategy.

One way or the other, we Nigerians will win. Just as we leapfrogged the West with our adoption of mobile phones, we will leapfrog in our adoption of the next decade’s computing platforms.


Android Image Courtesy of Android Guys.