A tablet computer, from Congo

VMK's Android tablet, designed in Brazzaville

Africa is getting its first Android-based tablet computer designed and engineered on the continent. No, the device isn’t the brainchild of a company in Johannesburg or Cape Town. Rather, it’s been developed in Congo-Brazzaville.

The company behind it, VMK, specialises in website design, application development and consulting. But now it wants to make a splash in the fast-growing tablet market by bringing a low-cost tablet computer to the continent.

For now, VMK is only providing images of the rear of the device as it says it is still in the process of securing various trademarks and doesn’t want to encourage copycats by releasing images of the whole device yet.

The tablet is a 7-inch model, like BlackBerry’s Playbook or Samsung’s smaller Galaxy Tab, and features a 1,2GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of internal memory and Wi-Fi support. It will run version 2.3.3 of Google’s Android operating system and will sport a user interface called “Kongo”, says VMK CEO Vérone Mankou.

Images of the tablet clearly show it is “designed and engineered in Congo by VMK”. Mankou says that although VMK tried to keep its tablet as African as possible it couldn’t be assembled here, so that part of the process has been outsourced to China.

Vérone Mankou

Mankou says the cost of the device will be dependent on resellers, but it should be about half the price of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and a quarter of the price of an iPad 3G.

He says one of the problems of doing business in Africa is that the fees and taxes involved in cross-border trade on the continent often incur unnecessary costs that push up prices. VMK hopes to keep prices down for the African market.

“Congo has the same problems as all sub-Saharan African countries: it’s difficult to get funding, so it’s difficult to create big projects,” says Mankou, when asked by TechCentral about the challenges of doing business in Congo. He says VMK is trying to secure funding to grow the project, but that it’s a slow process that requires patience and determination.

Mankou says he always wanted to get into the hardware market but he started VMK as an IT services company because it was easier to secure funding. “It’s taken me two years to get sufficient reserves together to start this project. This is the project of my life.”

He says that although the VMK tablet “is designed for emerging markets, it will be available globally”. VMK will focus on Africa first “because it’s more accessible” and the company is looking for African partners and resellers.

Mankou hopes VMK will begin shipping its tablets in September and to have them on shelves by early October.

More images of the tablet are available on VMK’s website.  — Craig Wilson, TechCentral

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