Last week, Internet service provider Afrihost made headlines for launching a R1 999 smartphone that comes bundled with 1GB/month of data for 12 months. Turns out there’s a South African company behind the smartphone, called the Zest T1.
Zest Mobile, a start-up founded just a year ago, is catering to the needs of value-conscious smartphone users with the Zest T1 and intends launching another device later this year aimed at power users.
Zest Mobile director and founder David Lindeque, 22, is a BCom student at the University of Cape Town. “A lot of countries have their own, home-grown technology companies that they are proud of and with Zest Mobile we want to be that company for South Africa.”
Lindeque says that when he founded the company last year, he travelled extensively to find the necessary suppliers to produce the components for a locally designed smartphone. Although the phones are contract manufactured overseas, he says “everything from the aesthetics to the specifications are developed locally”.
“Many parts that are required for the manufacturing of a smartphone, such as the processor, camera and storage, cannot be sourced or produced locally,” he says.
Zest Mobile was self-funded initially, but now has undisclosed investors on board.
From concept to implementation, it took almost exactly a year for Zest Mobile to launch the Zest T1. Lindeque approached Afrihost in the hopes it would be a launch partner. “We thought the T1 was the perfect vehicle for Afrihost,” says Lindeque. “And it would seem Afrihost had the same aspirations for a locally developed smartphone.”
Afrihost replied to Lindeque and, two days later, he was in a meeting with its directors. “The deal was concluded 30 minutes later.”
The launch idea of partnering with Afrihost has paid of for the Durban start-up. Lindeque says that the service provider sold a thousand units in the first 17 minutes. Two days later, the number had risen to more than 3 500. “We were hoping to sell a thousand units in the first month. We were blown away by the demand,” says Lindeque.
The Zest T1 is a midrange smartphone that runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system. The device has a 1,3GHz quad-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera, a 4,5-inch multi-touch screen, micro SD card slot, integrated GPS, 8GB of storage, 1GB of RAM and Bluetooth 4.0. Screen pixel density is 245ppi.
Zest Mobile now has plans to release a high-end smartphone aimed at power users who want more memory and processing power. This flagship, 1080p-display device will feature a 5-inch screen and will also support 4G/LTE networks, says Lindeque.
“The target audience for Zest Mobile was originally a lower LSM audience, but it turns out South Africans across the LSM spectrum have shown interest in the Zest T1,” says Lindeque.
Zest Mobile has also approached two of the mobile network operators, but they throw up “a lot of red tape with many stringent requirements”.
Lindeque says that the company has plans to expand into Africa, and is eyeing opportunities in Zambia and Kenya.
“We have goals to extend our reach into Africa, but obviously money is a concern here. As soon as there is sufficient funding we will look at it.”
The company will soon start selling its phones through its website. It also plans to sell accessories online.
Lindeque says Canonical, the company founded by Mark Shuttleworth which funds development of Ubuntu Linux, has also shown interest in the Zest T1 as a possible platform for the mobile version of Ubuntu. “We’ll be exploring the option of offering Ubuntu on our device in the near future. It would be great if our customers can choose their operating system and perhaps even update and flash the device themselves to run the operating system of their choice.”
The Zest T1 does not offer root access, but Lindeque says that the company is exploring how to approach this without voiding the warranty.
Zest Mobile employs 10 people, with product support to be handled through a Johannesburg service centre. Should a device have to be sent from another part of the country, Zest will carry the courier costs. — © 2014 NewsCentral Media