Tablet Computing In Africa

I’ll admit it: I misjudged the usefulness of the iPad, viewing it as a big iPhone rather than a computer replacement. I also take issue with Apple’s control over their portable products – The Walled Garden, as it’s been called – which limits customization and creates an authoritarian regime which manages app approval (Google Voice was rejected without explanation for over a year, Skype for over six months). While I will most likely never personally own an iPad, I now look forward to a number of Android tablets have a new picture of their usefulness.

Here in Kisangani I’ve already met three locals who have iPads. That doesn’t sound like much, but the extremes needed to obtain one here truly limit their availability. But they’re perfect devices for Africa for the following reasons:

  1. They’re portable and durable: Most people travel around on motorcycles here, and carrying around a laptop is a real pain, whereas an iPad doesn’t add much weight and is easily stuffed into a small bag without much worry of it being damaged.
  2. Long Battery Life: In a place where power is intermittent, and some people don’t even have power at their homes, the extended battery life of an iPad easily trumps a PC. One person who has one here doesn’t even have power at home. He charges it at work and then it gets him through the day.
  3. Travel: If you live and work in Africa, you will need to travel to other cities. But, when traveling, most people only need access to email, some documents, and maybe some photos or presentations. It’s also nice to have some sort of distractions. The iPad offers all of that in one simple device that only needs a WiFi connections. I think this extends everywhere, as I’m often dragging my laptop along on trips to visit my family, when really all I need is something to check email and browse a bit on.
  4. Simplicity: Ok, I like that the iPad is simple, but I think it’s too simple – But I’m an Android user and like having multiple programs running in the background so that I can actually multitask. But the simplicity of a tablet is good for people who are not second generation computer users. The iPad allows people to use email, browse the internet, and do some minor productivity. Now, they will still need computers at the office for actual productivity, but getting some access to the internet is pretty important.

Biggest Problems:

  1. Internet Access: We pay $550.00 US for a shitty 528Kbps ISDN line that is shared with a block of four other houses. Now, that’s not the same in other parts of Africa, as we are in the Heart of Darkness, but WiFi still isn’t the common thing it is in the developed world. Yesterday, one of the locals in town with an iPad came over here just to use the internet for a few hours.
  2. Cost: Computers are expensive, but there are cheap ones to be had. Laptops are expensive but netbooks have made them affordable for work purposes. iPads are just damn expensive. Thankfully no one needs the 3G version here.

My Final Thoughts:

Bring on Honeycomb (Android for Tablets) and the good Android Tablets! I’m even interested in seeing the Web OS Tablet HP recently revealed. Only a few of these will be any good, but at least there will be some great ones and the more tablets there are, the thinner, cheaper, and slicker they will get.

I know one thing is for sure: The next time I come to Africa, I’m bringing a tablet computer!


One thought on “Tablet Computing In Africa

  1. Pingback: PayU Computing in Africa Could Change Everything « A Crowing Hen

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