Zim phone maker plans expansion
By Alfonce Mbizwo, Harare, Zimbabwe
Zimbabwean mobile phone maker, Swav says it plans to expand into several African countries in 2012, and promises technology ‘that is relevant to the everyday lives of people in Africa’.
Chief executive Munyaradzo Gwatidzo told Biztechafrica that the company had already made inroads in Nigeria since launching the brand in 2010, selling about 100 000 handsets per month. In June last year, the company launched its products in Angola and Kenya with limited success.
“We have had a better reception in Nigeria and we have launched in Angola and Kenya but they are still infant markets and we have several challenges that we have to face,” he says.
“People are only getting to know this new brand, and being an African brand there is the issue of perception whereby for some reason, people associate African brands with inferiority and feel we are not as good as say traditional brands such as Apple on HTC,” Gwatidzo told Biztechafrica.
“But when they actually start using our devices and feel their capabilities, they start appreciating the technology,” he said.
Initially, with Gwatidzo and Chinese partners launched a brand called G-Tide, which is now a household name in Zimbabwe, but sold it off to his partners from the Asian country to start Swav.
“I founded that (G-Tide) brand but then disposed of the business because the vision for what we wanted to do had changed. The trend was that the world was moving towards smartphones and tablet PCs and G-Tide was a low cost entry level brand and we felt that trying to elevate it to another level it was going to be difficult, so we came up with Swav.
“Our target is to make products that are relevant to Africa and we try to come up with apps that are customized for the continent. Most of the phones that people buy are customized for the developed countries and most of the apps are relevant to users in those countries. As a result the handsets users are only accessing voice, messaging and internet. What we are trying to do is create apps that can be used in Africa.
“Swav is a brand from an African perspective, a product and brand that can be identified with Africa. Initially, we called it G-Mobile but we quickly realized there could be confusion with G-Tide and we renamed it Swav Mobile.”
Gwatidzo said the product design and software design were done at their Zimbabwe office, but the actual assembly was carried out in Malaysia.
“We could set up a factory to manufacture the phones here, but the conditions are not conducive and it would be very expensive. We have tried to engage government on some of the issues but so far they have not been forthcoming, leaving us no choice but to continue to have the handsets assembled elsewhere,” he said.
Swav’s products include smartphones sold under the Swav Brand on the Android platform. The Android phones have touch screens, GPS, Wi-Fi, camera and 3G or 4G service, and, as smartphones, allow the convergence of mobile phone and personal computer (PC) functions.
“We have entry level handsets we call Swav Loco and the Swav Smart. For the Loco segment we developed a phone with a heavy duty battery that can go up to three weeks without having to recharge it. We have also partnered with local musicians and we have preloaded local music on the devices. It is our initiative to support local talent and fight against piracy,” Gwatidzo said.
“The Swav Smart has a touch screen and customized applications. We have partnered with local travel agents such that one can make travel bookings from the device. We are also working on an app that allows locals to gives access to the local soccer teams’ info, logs, results, fixtures and all the relevant information. We are also developing a joint app that gives access to news from around Zimbabwe from local sources, including newspapers.”
Gwatidzo said their challenge was to produce products that were affordable, and are targeting producing a smartphone that would cost under USD150.
“We are mainly working on addressing issues of affordability on such devices to afford as many people as possible a chance to own gadgets with the latest technology but at an affordable price,” he said.