'First African-designed' smartphone and tablet launched By BBC | Friday, December 28  2012 at  14:06

The VMK tablet will retail at $300 while the smartphone will go for $170. PHOTO | VMK 

A smartphone and tablet said to be the first designed by an African company have been launched.

The products, designed by Congolese entrepreneur Verone Mankou, are manufactured in China.

His company VMK's devices run Google's Android software. They will retail at $170 for the smartphone and $300 for the tablet.

"Only Africans can know what Africa needs," said Mr Mankou at the Tech4Africa conference in Johannesburg.

"Apple is huge in the US, Samsung is huge in Asia, and we want VMK to be huge in Africa."

Technology blog Smartplanet reports that the tablet offers wi-fi connectivity and four gigabytes of internal storage. Its name, Way-C, means "the light of the stars" in the local Lingala language.

The smartphone has rear and forward facing cameras and a 3.5in (8.9cm) screen.

There are plans to sell the devices across 10 other West African countries as well as Belgium, France and India.

Mr Mankou said he hoped to launch a cheaper tablet for students next year.

Compete against

The devices will come up against several already well-established and popular brands.

Most notably, Blackberry-maker Research in Motion (RIM) has a significant presence on the continent, despite flagging sales in the western market.

Popular too are handsets from Nokia which is working closely with Facebook to grow African's interest in both mobile communication and social networking.

However, there is an increasing desire among African communities to support homegrown products, spurred on by fledgling technology scenes in various cities across the region.

Attempts to be seen as African have caused some firms to be accused of dishonesty. Companies were highly criticised after they were deemed to be marketing products that were made offshore but simply branded locally.

VMK insisted that while the product was manufactured in China for cost reasons, the design and engineering was entirely African.

A page on the company's website stressed that statement, saying: "We are somewhat offended by the disregard of those who persist in denying the authentication of our products, despite evidence.

"Most of those critics are either Afro-pessimistic (who argue that 'nothing good can come from Africa'), or just (future) competitors."

The company added that unlike previous "African" smartphones and tablets, there were no products matching the VMK devices in other countries under different branding.