A cheap new tablet that can speak Zulu

Computing

South Africans can now choose to have a tablet with Zulu-language capability, rather than an iPad, thanks to Vodacom.

SA’s largest cellular network this week launched the Smart Tab 3G, which will sell for R999 (on a prepaid deal) and was designed for the low-cost market. Its features, however, are comparable with the top brands, from the iPad to the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

This is the second low-cost device offered by Vodacom, which launched the Smart Kicka smartphone in August and sold 250 000 units in the first month. MTN, the second-largest network operator in the country, launched the low-cost MTN Steppa for R500 earlier this year.

But the savvy tablet plan from Shameel Joosub’s cellular company is part of Vodacom’s wider goal to boost revenue from data by drawing more data customers.

Targeting indigenous-language speakers is part of the grand plan to convert customers from monthly users to people who buy data on a daily basis.

According to Phil Patel, Vodacom’s chief commercial officer, 17 million people use Vodacom’s data service -fully justifying the R9-billion investment it is making to improve its network this year. And, rather than targeting the likes of Sandton and Claremont, Vodacom is prioritising rural areas and townships.

Pitching to indigenous-language markets may be a clever move. Vodacom ran “focus groups” which showed that many South Africans whose first language is not English preferred services provided in their mother tongue.

“People feel comfortable in languages other than English. While people can understand English, they may not trust it,” Patel said on Tuesday.

The company plans to add Afrikaans — the third most spoken language after Zulu and Xhosa, according to the 2011 national census — to the tablet’s language abilities in future.

Patel said the device was “a channel” to sell other services. Vodacom could also package the education syllabus digitally on the tablet as a next step.

The 7-inch-screen tablet operates on the latest Android 4.4 (KitKat) operating system, providing a familiar interface and applications for consumers who are used to brands such as Samsung that also function on Android. It weighs 275g and has front and back cameras for pictures and videos. It also has Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities. It will sell for R999 prepaid and R59 monthly on a 24-month contract. The packages come with a data allocation.

Davide Tacchino, Vodacom managing executive for terminals, said Vodacom would negotiate with manufacturers in China to lower tablet prices.

Vodacom will initially release about 20 000 tablets and aims to sell 100 000 during the first year, according to Tacchino.

“We’d like to enlarge the [tablet] market [in South Africa] by 30-40%,” he added.

By the end of June last year, more than 1.4 million tablets had been sold, compared with sales of 960 000 units by the end of 2012, according to World Wide Worx, a technology consulting firm.

Gareth Mellon, team leader for ICT at Frost & Sullivan Africa, said low-cost devices were popular for their preloaded functions, rather than the device — for instance, having high-demand applications such as Facebook and WhatsApp.

Mellon said MTN’s Steppa smartphone had initially attracted a lot of demand. “However, MTN didn’t have the manufacturing capability to meet the demand and there have also been some question marks over the phone’s functionality.”

MTN did not respond to questions.

Source: BDLive 19 October 2014