Friday, May 23, 2014

Sci-Tech watch, 20: The Surtab US$ 99 tablet, "Made in Haiti" . . .

Four years after the horrific 2010 earthquake, Haiti is rebuilding. And as the video below documents, part of that is new industries, here a small firm or two that are making 7" Android tablets in the educational tablet price window:

The Verge, December 28, 2013 notes:
 A new pair of tablet companies are setting up in an unexpected place: Haiti. Surtab and Handxom SA both began production last month on a new brand of 7-inch Android tablets which are being sold direct to various Haitian government ministries and made available for retail through Digicel. Both founded by europeans (from Belgium and Denmark respectively) with the help of development funds, the companies are hoping to bring new life to the stagnant Hatitian economy, still reeling from the 2010 earthquake that left more than a million and a half homeless.
A March 16, 2014 Reuters report adds some details:

With $200,000 in start-up funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and using imported Asian components, the [Surtab] factory produces three models all with 7-inch (18-cm) screens that run on Google Inc's Android operation system. They range from a simple wifi tablet with 512 megabytes of RAM for about $100, to a 3G model with 2-gigabytes of memory for $285.

The small factory with 40 employees is a throwback to the 1970s and 1980s when Haiti had a thriving assembly industry, including computer boards, as well as baseballs for U.S. professional teams.

Political turmoil, and a U.S. economic embargo in the 1990s following a military coup [--> as was called for by opponents of the Military regime], put them out of business . . . .
At the factory there is no production line, instead workers assemble each device from start to finish. [--> as the video shows]
"We could have done like in Asia, one task per employee, which is faster, but we wanted to have a better quality product," said Diderot Musset, Sûrtab's production manager.

Depending on the model, it takes an employee between 35 minutes and an hour to make a tablet. The company produces between 4,000 to 5,000 tablets a month, but plans to double that in April.

"We want the parts of the market which are not taken by the big players, especially in developing countries. These people would like to have a tablet but cannot afford an iPad," he said, referring to the Apple Inc device that costs at least $300 in U.S. stores and is barely available in Haiti.

In short, education tablets are available right here in our region. Indeed, Reuters notes that a university in Kenya has contracted Surtab for 650 units.

I would add a folio and keyboard, as so often mentioned in this blog, to go with Kingsoft Office or the like:


A demonstration of what would be readily possible here in our region, with very small startup investment. 

But of course, it is not just about soldering parts from Asia to make a "whitebox" tablet. We need to begin to develop good educational content and move away from the assumption and expectation that a tablet is a glorified toy or entertainment device.

Indeed, Reuters indicates that the Surtab investor is looking to start an applied science graduate school, and to work with local software developers.

It is high time for us to think outside the box, here in our region. END