The (Small, Slow and Sufficient) $99 “Africa” Laptop

Just in time for Christmas, a new low-cost, low-power netbook is hitting the scenes that actually retails for only $99. Cherrypal, the company behind it, has dubbed it “Africa”, as they’re focusing the little computer on developing countries. As the company states, this is a “no thrills” laptop – it’s basic and won’t be attractive for most of the tech people reading this blog for their own heavy use.

The $99 Africa netbook

“At just $99, the new 7” Cherrypal Africa is one of the best buys in the world of electronics. Created with developing countries in mind, the Africa is our latest step toward closing the “digital divide”, and we’re extremely proud of this achievement. Whether you live in Ghana or Texas, the Cherrypal Africa is right for you! “

[Note the Texas bit? Yes, I thought that was funny too...]

The computer runs on a 400 MHz processor and features 256 MB RAM, 2 GB flash memory, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, two USB ports and can run either Linux or Windows CE operating systems. It has only a 7″ screen as well, so it’s not a monster that you’re going to be able to do a lot of heavy work on.

There’s always room for low-cost, yet usable, computers in Africa. I’m happy to see this operating as a real business, available to everyone.

The problem is distribution

It’s easy enough to buy one online if you’re from the US, but how does an unconnected, no-credit card (or PayPal) owning African buy one? Let’s be honest, here we need a store that you can walk into, cash in hand, and walk out with a computer. There is no payment mechanism that works beyond in-country mechanisms and delivery to any African nation will double the price of an individual “Africa” laptop.

What I’m trying to determine is the distribution model for getting these to actually be for sale in Africa for $99. Is it even possible?

UPDATE:
I just got in touch with Max Seybold, the founder of Cherrypal, saying the following:

“We can ship to Kenya for the same cost too, let us know.

We are looking into established distributors/resellers but also encourage schools and other organizations to sign up as distribution channel. This would be a win-win situation, since this organizations are in dire need to generate additional income and we could teach them how to promote and distribute the products. It’s a learning experience for all of us but we are willing to try unconventional approaches in order to help the cause.”

Any takers? I’d be interested, but not by myself.

43 thoughts on “The (Small, Slow and Sufficient) $99 “Africa” Laptop

  1. Oluniyi David Ajao

    Pricing and distribution is one of the major hurdles facing Africa where ICT development is concerned. The price of this device would double by the time it gets to a typical African country that has a shipping harbour, and trippled for land-locked African countries. I wonder why some governments won’t consider cancelling import duties on devices like these.

  2. Joshua Wanyama

    Great point David. I think a strategy that puts governments on the table to discuss how they can make this happen a low cost will be the best way forward. Otherwise, the retail price in Africa will be cost prohibitive. For that money, I might as well get a faster, more powerful machine.

  3. HASH

    Check out the update to the blog post. The founder states that he can get it to Africa for $99 as well. He’s also looking for distribution partners.

  4. Solomon King

    Small error ( I think): 256GB of RAM?
    Otherwise this looks awesome. I can already see it powering my very amateurish embedded electronics lab. Distribution at $99 seems like a very good idea.

    [Edit by Erik: Fixed, and thanks]

  5. Wyndago

    I’d be interested too (to take part in the distribution), but like you, not by myself. Email me.. lets see if we can work something out.

  6. Wayan

    Eric,

    David is right. I’d be really surprised if the landed cost in Africa is $99 after shipping and duties. Even Kenya, with its quick international connections, would set you back around $30-50 per laptop, unless they were for educational use (like in a classroom) where you could reduce the duties. That means retail would be about $300.

    And then there is durability. How long do you think this would last in your gadget bag? With all that you carry around, I’m thinking 3 months max.

  7. HASH

    Wayan, that’s why I stated:

    “and delivery to any African nation will double the price of an individual “Africa” laptop.”

    the founder is stating otherwise, I’ve emailed him to see just how that would work, and will add that to this post when I get it.

    Durability is a different point altogether, that’s why I’ve ordered one to test.

  8. JR

    What would be better, getting a bunch of these or the same number of capable Android devices if they could be competitively priced. Say a G1 at $99.

  9. zulusafari

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the maker of the ‘Africa’ laptop can get it to Kenya for $99 (including shipping) BUT doesn’t have a clue, much less control over the cost (duty) of getting it through customs and into the hand of the user.

    I just had to pay $200 to a customs agent who had decided that the 5 Master Locks in the box were worth their weight in gold. I bought them for $10 each and had them shipped over. $200 in customs is like 400% duty. So your $99 laptop could end up costing you $500 to actually have it in your hands in Kenya.

  10. Wayan

    Ah, didn’t see that in the post, Eric, I skipped ahead to the seller’s quote. I may buy one for me, but that’s USA shipping, which would be a different experience.

  11. Mjinga

    Hook with an MP…. all those imported reconditioned cars….this whole thread just sounds like ignorant elitism. Call up Chris Kirubi or some Indian, you know, like Kamlesh Patni or Merali of Eveready Batteries) in Nairobi just tell them they get 5 % cut of 10 million Laptops distributed in Kenya Uganda TZ, Rwanda and Burundi and Easter Congo.. Kwisha maneno. Go to bed

  12. niti bhan

    Good point on questioning durability. My 10″ eeePC netbook wasn’t meant for the hard work primary computer role I used it for these past 8 months and just died today (luckily as I arrived in Singapore where I have my desktop and can get it repaired (hopefully) and can buy an alternate workhorse). Its not just robustness and environmental conditions but the fact that at that price, it might be the only computer available to someone and whose workload may increase accordingly.

  13. Wayan

    David,

    That’s not retail sales in Ghana – just a donation by Chery to a local Ghana org for a cybercafe. No mention of a real IT company selling these in the local marketplace.

  14. Raphael Oko

    This is a good idea that I think will be very helpful in Nigeria. I will really want to see how we can distribute the computer to teachers and students in Nigeria. It is relatively cheap and affordable too. Congrats!

  15. jke

    Why only a 7″ screen and not at least 10.1″?
    Why such crippled operating systems? How many different user profiles can we set on each machine?
    Why only two USB ports? Can the 2 gig be expanded using a USB port?
    How long will it run + on which voltage?
    Can it be powered by using a car battery?
    Is it dust proof? How waterproof is the keyboard?
    Can it be fixed locally? Will there be any spare parts available (keyboard, hinges, display, speakers, ports)?

    I think those are some of the questions that we need to address, not only the questions on import taxes or shipping/handling fees + how long it will take to get them on the market. I believe that most netbooks (with or without an Atom CPU) are very much suitable for the African markets, mainly due to their durability (!) and relatively low power consumption.

    And I also believe that it doesn’t really matter if they sell for USD 99 or 399 as long as they are “known” to be good. I understand it that the “African” netbook by Cherrypal was designed as a “donatable” (is that a word?) netbook for charity purposes only whereas money will be made with other machines like their 13″ netbook (and which I would rather import). It’s like people are driving Mercedes in Africa and not Tata or Lada.

  16. Tonami

    I agree with jke, The $99 price sounds good, but if you present this device to an average Nigerian alongside a slightly more expensive used compaq or dell, I’m afraid the so called Africa netbook would not be the choice. The specs makes this thing almost useless beside a more compact phone with same OS. If the consumer wants more they can always buy used.

    The problem with anything designed to be donated is that the creators fail to see people of low income as consumers. Consumerism is part of the Human DNA. Even the poorest person can pay for something.

    I do applaud the bold move by Cherrypal in launching such a product, but this development should not end here. Working on a viable and sustainable market driven distribution channel is not a bad idea either.

    Like Zulusafari stated, cost of shipping is not the problem, getting the goods past customs is where the problem lies. A viable idea would be to ship the laptops in knocked down form. That way it does not seem as valuable as a finished unit. To the customs that $99 netbook is no diferrent from a $999 laptop.

    Once cleared the units can be reassembled. There are many fast learning young people in most African countries that can do this with little overhead cost. The good thing is those people assembling the units become free Word of Mouth agents as not everyone has the free time to read a blog like this apart from “Techies”. Although this setup adds another layer of complexity to the channel, It is nothing new as this is the same channel most exporters of used laptops to Nigeria use. They ship LCD screens, keyboards and motherboards separately inside an outbound automobile that would otherwise be empty at no extra cost. And somehow the items magically appear in the country as complete laptops ready for sale.

  17. Eric H. Doss

    @JKE–I think you hit the issue here: It’s not the purchase price, but the reliability and long term functionality of the product. Since these machines will be cobbled together with whatever spare parts Cherry can find, it’s going to be hard for anyone to repair them. With no standards and no common parts, how can a tech know what processor, MB, etc is in the machine?

    @Tonami I think your comment is related to JKE’s above… Creating products for the poor shouldn’t be just related to price, but should factor in reliability too. Anyone can make a cheap computer, but it takes a bit of skill to create a inexpensive computer that is reliable enough to use for years.

    Personally, I think the best approach is to make a reliable computer, couple the computer distribution with a finance program run by computer technicians in the country. You have the market of people, they need access to capital to purchase these computers, and they will need service. Not only do you provide computers to consumers, but you create jobs for locals as distributors and repair techs…

  18. James Ojiambo

    I think this innovation is great and it will be great for Uganda.
    we at Hope case Foundation would be interested in the the distribution to rural farmers groups, students , teachers and ICT focussed organizations .
    I do suggest that you consider sending them to African NGOS and CBOS as donations at that cost.

  19. eston murithi

    This is a very good development, we have a community information centre that can utilize these computers. Kindly let us know how we can acquire them and even distribute to many who are willing to acquire them.

  20. ben

    i think bringing those computers to kenya would be such a great idea.am a student at kca university

  21. Mika

    CherryPal Africa sounds like a good idea, but is it real? Does anyone here have it by now? For some reason it’s very difficult to order them through the cherrypal website and if you just google “cherrypal scam” you’ll find numberous sites telling stories how people paid for the product but never received anything (expect mails saying shipping/refund is almost there…

  22. Raphael Oko

    Hi, I ordered for 10 of the laptops and was issued an invoice and I have also just received the shipping information containing tracking number which shows that the shipment will be delivered to me this week in Abuja, Nigeria. I have exchanged many emails with Max, the founder of the company as well as other colleagues in the Canada who spoke directly with him. If you want to order, please email Max and he will guide you through. I do not think there is any scam in this idea and we should not raise such alarm until we hear directly from someone who paid and never got the laptops. I will post update by the end of the week to confirm whether I recieved the laptops or not

  23. Mika

    Hi Raphael, thanks for your comment. Personally I don’t have any positive nor negative experiences so far (thinking about ordering), but just bumbed into many threads talking about bad expenriences. Anyhow, good to know you have been in direct contact and can report soon how it went. Thumbs up!

  24. Imanizwarg

    Hi ,

    I ordered 17 of these in January and I have not heard anything from the company, their phone just rings, they have my money, my emails recieve no response. I am considering just leaving it till i am next in america and pay them a visit. However if things change I will keep you guys posted good we have a place to vent…

  25. Imanizwarg

    People the machines have arrived but I am battling with customs because the duty levied is higher than the value of the machines , which will ultimately mean the machines will have to be sold for more than cherrypal envisions the machines to be sold for. Will keep you posted on my fight with customs, but it looks like the machines will have to be sold at the high end price in order to get our money back & the dilemma is that there are probably more powerful machines at the price we may have to sell them for. Great thread “whiteafrican” hopefully my knowledge will help others from the same pitfall. These machines need to be sent in parts not as complete units.

  26. Imanizwarg

    Hi,

    we are in Uganda, i spoke to them yesterday they said if i go today they will look into it and they may remove the duty but they want to tax the machines…well hopefully thats less, will keep you posted

  27. Mika

    Imanizwarg,

    Good to hear that the laptops have arrived! Let us know when you have actually been able to use and test them (are they robust and usable enough in your opinion?)

    Raphael, any news from you computers?

    Mika

  28. Imanizwarg

    Hi got them out by giving two to the customs officers as “gifts” & paying reduced duty T.I.A!

    They look good , all going well except for when you go from cafe to cafe connecting to wireless networks it seems to be defaulting to the previous cafe’s network and when it obviously cant find it i get “unknown host” konqueror error, though when you plug it into ethernet its fine. Does anyone know how you remove or stop the wireless networks you visit from being remembered in linux? I have no idea what flavour these are but its ubuntu. As the main purpose is internet browsing if this is a hitch people won’t be happy, i have tried 4 today and had the same error..when moving between wireless spots.

    After i sort out the wireless , i will then test one of them for robustness by taking it out with me, dropping it gently etc, there are no movable parts so they shd be robust and the casing is quite hard.

    Where do i find control panel or internet settings in linux?

  29. Raphael Oko

    Hello,
    As I mentioned before, I ordered for 10 laptops to be delivered to me in Abuja, Nigeria and I was provided a tracking number by Max. There were some initial delays and I was informed that some custom paperwork was required. The consignment was initially delayed for some days in China but as I write, we have been informed by the UPS that the computers are in Lagos now, but it seems that Customs may charge some fees. Hopefully, I should get the machines in Abuja by next week. I have a large number of teachers who are very interested in the machines and it is my intention after this 10 to order for as many as 100 – 200. We want to launch a “One Laptop per Teacher Campaign” in Nigeria and a few other countries in Africa.

    More next week when I get the laptops on my laps. Raphael

  30. Imanizwarg

    Wireless issue solved we reinstalled the os , i have given one to a carefree young person for them to test drive , show their friends and most likely it will face collisions , dust , etc see how it fares when it gets back. So system wise its small , slow & sufficient , durability will report back

  31. Imanizwarg

    It survived , hinges are loose its a bit dusty and scratched but still working , question guys, as this thing is branded what is there to stop our customers going to the manufacturer directly and buying the unit for less? Currently it makes no business sense to import these things & try to sell them for $99,

    I agree with wayan above retail has to be about $300 , which then brings you as a retailer frighteningly close to what people can get for $300 which is prob more powerful than the africa.

    such as these :

    http://www.simmtronicssemi.com/simmbook.php

    Or maybe one just has to think like a ruthless business woman and if people buy them @$300 , keep supplying them….

    $99 Laptop must have been a marketing ploy on cherrypal’s part

  32. Raphael Oko

    Dear Colleagues,
    I have received the 10 laptops that we ordered for in Abuja, Nigeria and I am trying to give them out to teachers to try and get their comments. My idea for ordering the laptops was to launch “One Laptop per Teacher in Africa” campaign and I hope the laptops will be useful. The ordering system has been made easier for Nigeria as I may be able to pay and pick now but there were some charges by customs at the port. I hope this helps others that may be interested.

    Raphael

  33. Peter Msangi

    Dear Guys
    I think max efforts are a brilliant idea, lets be honest. The only best solution for us to break the digital divide is to increase the usage of computers. From Dar es Salaam to Abuja. I think Cherry Pal is calling out for passionate investors in its efforts to increase its business in Africa. Most governments have removed VAT and import duty on assembled laptops. I think its upto us, the cherrylovers to push this to as many civil groups as possible i.e. students,governments,army, etc…

    Peter from Dar es Salaam

  34. Mika

    I take back my earlier doubts on the CherryPal store (there were some rumours on hoax/scam going on). I also received a fully functioning CherryPal Africa last week and am happily testing it now.

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