Two of South Africa’s major mobile networks recently revealed rival devices to connect to the internet using televisions as monitors. The devices are aimed at emerging markets where there is limited access to the internet, but where TV penetration is typically very high.
On 15 February Vodacom introduced its Vodafone WebBox – a multimedia plug-and-play keyboard with built-in modem that can be connected to a television, turning it into a computer monitor.
The device connects with a standard RCA cable. It is supported by the Android 2.1 platform, and uses the Vodafone Opera Mini browser to surf the internet. Other features include a video player, picture viewer and FM radio.
According to an Engineering News report, WebBox was developed by Vodacom’s parent company Vodafone. It aims to bring the internet to people who previously did not have access because of high connectivity and equipment costs, and will launch in South Africa before its introduction to other emerging markets.
The WebBox launch took place a day before MTN unveiled its version, called InternetOnTV.
InternetOnTV comprises three separate parts – a keyboard, mouse and handset – whereas all the WebBox’s components are contained within the keyboard. It does, however, have all the features of the WebBox, including the same web browser and access to email and SMS services – with a few added bonuses.
According to Mapula Bodibe, MTN’s GM of consumer marketing, their device offers social media integration, MS Office document support and 3G at 7.2Mbps. Furthermore, the built-in media player also supports popular multimedia formats such as MP3, AAC, DIV, WMA and MPEG4, while the handset can be used to make phone calls.
There have been a few negative comments about both offerings, such as the purchase price – R749 (US$105) for Vodacom and R999 ($140) for MTN, given that the devices are aimed at the unconnected market – and the fact that users still have to buy prepaid data bundles or use their airtime, but the general consensus is that this is a step in the right direction.
The InternetOnTV will soon be available in Jet retail stores across South Africa, and account holders will have the convenience of paying it off over six months, interest-free. Those interested in the WebBox will have to go to a Vodacom outlet and pay for the device up front.
The WebBox scooped the Universal Design Award Consumer Favourite 2011, with special mention given to its flexibility and usability, as well as its security and affordability.