21 November 2012

Nigeria: PC for Students - Exploring the Tablet Option

In the last take of this column, the Student PC Ownership Scheme of the Federal Government, powered by the Ministry of Communications Technology and its agency, NITDA, was the subject of discussion. Lauding the effort, I wrote, inter alia: "Overall, it is a commendable initiative, seeing that telcos are expected to connect the PCs with bandwidth, processors from Intel, software from Microsoft, credit from the banks. Obviously a lot of work has gone into preparing the scheme. The minister and her team are to be commended."

My parting shot on that was on the price at which the devices are being offered. To recap, the first level is from N48,500; the second level is N70,500 and the third level is N85,000- N100,000. I also wrote that the price range "grossly underestimates the level of poverty in this country. I think Mr President ought to look at the scheme personally and see how the Federal Government can subsidize the scheme by at least fifty per cent. That will be five-star national service."

However, further rumination on the Student PC Ownership Scheme, as launched, indicated that one factor might have been left out; and that concerns tablet computers. The trend of computing, as we are all experiencing has moved from the desktop, to the laptop, and now to the hand-held devices. In other words, tablet computers are now the rave of the market and not a few Nigerians, including students that are being offered laptops now own tablet devices, whether it's Apple's iPad, or Samsung's Galaxy Tab, or devices from other makers.

In an edition of this column published Wednesday October 26, 2011, I wrote that what we need as a nation "is action that will enable our OEMs fulfil their desire for this country, which chiefly is that we should stop being a mass consumer of IT products from other lands but producers as well. From production, we protect these local brands by patronising them."

I am pleased that the scheme launched by Mrs Johnson is action in this direction, but it can be made more wholistic by incorporating tablet computers. Afterall, all the OEMs that will be part of the scheme have been assembling and selling desktops and laptops for years. I recall again that India, our colonial sibling came out last year with what was heralded as the world's cheapest tablet, and in commending it, I wrote that "India's Aakash was the outcome of a conscious, deliberate programme that began two years ago."

Still on the pricing: If we went the tablet PC way, we will be empowering more Nigerians than with laptops. Aakash II sells for R3,999 when last I checked. At N2.88090 to 1INR (Indian Rupee) the tablet sells for N11,520.72. Imagine how many more people will be able to afford the tablet PC if that option had been factored in.

Trust the Indians, Aakash is being sold in Nigeria under different brand names, and my intelligence indicates it is moving the market at a price of between N28,000 to N32,000! Datawind, makers of the Aakash tablet is selling the Ubislate brand online for INR3,400, which is even less than N10,000! I believe nothing is cast in stone, and as the e-Nigeria 2012 summit wraps up today, this is something we can all think about and work further on, in pursuit of the five-star national service I mentioned last week!

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