Google deal puts Africa on cusp of smartphone plant

Those talks include Google itself and Johannesburg-based Vodacom Group Ltd, the South African unit of Vodafone Group Plc, he said. Vodacom would “welcome the opportunity” to offer high-quality devices made in South Africa.PHOTO: COURTESY

A Johannesburg start-up is set to become the first company ever to manufacture smartphones in Africa.

It would be taking advantage of low costs and growing local demand to build handsets, tablets and other devices based on Google Inc’s Android system.

Onyx Connect, a privately backed company that’s raised 150 million rand (Sh1.1 billion), will begin production in the first quarter of next year, according to Andre Van der Merwe, its sales director. The company is licensed to load Google software like Android and Chrome onto devices sold under its own brand or products it makes for others.

“We are talking to companies to manufacture handsets, laptops and possibly Android TV boxes,” Mr Van der Merwe said.

Those talks include Google itself and Johannesburg-based Vodacom Group Ltd, the South African unit of Vodafone Group Plc, he said. Vodacom would “welcome the opportunity” to offer high-quality devices made in South Africa.

For Google, local production would stoke a sales push in Africa, one of the few regions where it isn’t the outright browser leader.

The Alphabet Inc unit trails Opera, which accounted for 39 per cent of web traffic in September on the continent, versus 32 per cent for Google Chrome, according to StatCounter Global Stats.

In addition to software, Google makes devices like Chromecast media players and Chromebook laptops.

While a $600-plus (Sh60,000) iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S7 is prohibitive to most African consumers, Onyx says it can produce a device in Johannesburg for about $30 (Sh3,000) that includes a camera and 1 gigabyte of memory. — Bloomberg

 

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