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Laptop the ideal vehicle for Africa’s growing access to telecommunications

   

Laptop the ideal vehicle for Africa’s growing access to telecommunications

By Henry Ferreira, Lenovo country general manager - 8 September 2010: As Africa gains access to progressively more telecommunications and Internet bandwidth, with two submarine cables soon running down each of the continent’s west and east coastlines, so the laptop computer will become the communication tool of choice.
This may be a surprising prediction, considering the relative prices of laptop computers and the ubiquitous cell phone – and, indeed, smart phones and other handheld devices that have telephony components.

But, think about it. Of Africa’s more than 1.2 billion people, more than 70% are under the age of 25. This is a generation born into the technology age. It’s grown up with, at the very least, cell phones and, therefore, with the idea that communication with a wider community is not only easy, it’s natural and desirable. This generation is also acutely aware that access to information equals access to wealth generation capabilities. And it’s a generation that will automatically expect communication to be the thread that links social activities, entertainment, and work.

In other words, it’s a generation that is inherently in synch with developments in IT – specifically the acceleration of convergence of communication technologies, including online video.

Also, for the majority of young Africans, cost of communications is still an issue. Voice calls remain more expensive than texting with cell phones. So, the Internet, offering cheap and easy access to much broader sources and types of information and communication, is enormously appealing.

However, while its entirely possible with some cell phones and other handheld devices to search the Internet or interact on Facebook, the big screen advantages of being able to scroll through large bodies of text or get the full benefit of social networking sites, including YouTube, are possible only when using a desktop or laptop computer.

Trends show that mobility is extremely important to the younger generation. So, getting mobility and big screen benefits at the same time means using a laptop computer rather than a handheld device. As has been said so often, would anyone really insist on having a tiny television screen when a normal one is available?

In addition, when it comes to working with, for example, spreadsheets, PowerPoint slides, engineering drawings, or balance sheets, there is no substitute for a full screen. Or, indeed, a full sized keyboard that enables one to work quickly and accurately – and comfortably.

Also, mobile or handheld devices tend not to have the power to easily interwork with less mobile devices such as printers.

There is talk of  roll-up normal-sized screens and keyboards that can be plugged into handheld devices being developed. But, the whole point of a handheld device is its convenience for carrying. Why, then, add to it items that must be carried with it, unpacked for use, and then packed away again when a work, entertainment, or social networking session is over. More convenient, surely, to simply use a laptop that has all the elements built into it?

For all these reason, we’re expecting sales of laptops to burgeon in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

That’s not to say that either the desktop computer or handheld devices will become obsolete. I don’t know a single executive who doesn’t travel with both a smart phone and a laptop computer. It’s so much easier, when you’re on the move, to use the always-on smart phone to pick up and sort through the avalanche of emails arriving in your inbox on a daily basis. And, of course, to receive those all important voice calls.

By the same token, sitting in a train to the airport or in a taxi on the way to business meeting doesn’t allow space or time to open a laptop, boot it up, link to a network, and download emails or documents. But, when there’s time and room while you’re flying between cities or sitting in your hotel room, the laptop is the more comfortable way to work.

Desktops also have their place in the computing spectrum, in large measure because they’re more affordable than laptops and smart phones. African governments, for instance, are finding that they can afford to equip more of their employees with desktop computers than with laptops. Desktops can also be expanded or upgraded more easily than mobile or smaller devices. Popping in and configuring an extra graphics card, say – and boosting productivity in the organisation as a consequence - is the work of a matter of minutes. Adding a better quality screen doesn’t entail getting rid of the computer, as it would for a laptop.

As with all technology, what you use really is a matter of what your communication and mobility needs are. In most scenarios, however, the laptop is going to meet most of your needs most of the time.