In South-Africa, startup phone manufacturer ONYX Connect is preparing the mass production of the first smartphone on African soil. The new product – dubbed the ‘ONYX’ is described as an ‘entry-level’ low-cost smartphone that will market for as little as $38. “A great product for Africa, manufactured in Africa”, says Andre van der Merwe. Club Africa asked the ONYX Connect Chief Technology Officer about the future he envisions for the new locally produced smartphone.
There is quite a variety of low-end phones available in Africa’s phone stores. As most high-end iPhones and Samsungs are too expensive to many local consumers, some buyers opt for a ten dollar ‘feature phone’ running on 2G, with limited possibilities. The next available option for most consumers is buying a sub-$50 ‘white label’ smartphone from China. But soon, ONYX Connect’s Andre van der Merwe insists, consumers will have a new option that may prove to become very popular. A local product: a four-inch entry-level smartphone for about $38 – retail price: $40 to 45 – that includes front and rear cameras, 1GB RAM, 8GB ROM, 1.3GHz quad core processor and runs the latest Android 7 Nougat. A product from a brand that is increasingly getting noticed.
An African ring
“Our ONYX smartphone – with a name that clearly has an African ring to it – will offer a great chance for a step up for consumers from feature phone to a real smartphone and from 2G to 3G at an affordable price”, says ONYX’ CTO. “We already offered several feature phones. This year there has been several increases on component prices, but our aim is still to connect as many people as possible – now with a range of smartphones that start at $38 to about $110, with a full set of features. This allows for consumers to start with the entry-level phone and – in a growth model – buy phones with more features over the years. We will bridge the gap between the feature phones and the international smartphone products with a phone of our own.”
Circuit boards and components
Van der Merwe and his team of 20 at startup ONYX Connect contracted with South African manufacturing partners that already manufacture the latest Panasonic SMT machines. “We populate the ‘raw’ circuit boards from scratch, with ‘raw’ components imported from China. We are waiting for the test equipment and once we are satisfied with the first test products from the line, we will give the green light for production at a volume of 80,000 ONYX phones per month.”
There is more to be done than manufacturing. Van der Merwe and his team have been busy heating up the market, both in South Africa and in other African countries. “It is great to notice that many parties recognize that this phone is all about local entrepreneurship, leading to local jobs. Many have shown interest, from telephone companies that want to offer this phone as part of their commercial offer, to education departments and government organisations.”
Creating a buzz
Arranging advertising and creating a buzz about a promising, ‘likeable’ local product entering the market is another step, obviously by utilising local social media. “The attraction of this phone is both in the price and in the simple concept. While most low-cost smartphones come preloaded with apps that can use up half the storage space, we will give the user a ‘clean’ ONYX phone, with only Android/Googles own apps like Google maps, YouTube etc. loaded on it. This means that a buyer can tailor this phone to his particular needs, with complete freedom of choice. We are working with partners on the option to downloading the most popular African languages and Africa-specific apps and local content to the phone, from Google”, says Van der Merwe. “And obviously, the ONYX smartphone will have no trouble supporting Africa’s various mobile money solutions. This allows this phone to become a true African product, in many senses.”
Retail, telco’s, distributors
ONYX will be selling the product both through retail and telco’s as well as via distributors. Selling a completely new range of smartphones also requires trust in the quality of the product – or at least a speedy, full repair in case of technical issues. “We found a partner that offers a good global and local spread of warranty centers and repair facilities. In case of a faulty production batch resulting in technical problems, we don’t need to send full batches to China and wait for a solution for weeks. We can cover an issue like this in South Africa, with our partner”, says Van der Merwe.
ONYX Connect believes in the success of the new product. “We worked hard to make it take off, from Swaziland and Lesotho, to Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya. We are happy to promote the ONYX anywhere in Africa.”