In Côte d’Ivoire, a new “Superphone” that uses a voice assistant to respond to commands in a local language is opening up opportunities to reach a broader range of consumers.
Developed and assembled locally, the phone is designed to make everyday tasks more accessible, from understanding a document and checking a bank balance to communicating with government agencies.
“I’ve just bought this phone for my parents back home in the village, who don’t know how to read or write,” said Floride Jogbe, a young woman impressed by ads on social media. She believed the 60,000 CFA francs (U.S. $92) she paid was well spent.
The smartphone uses an operating system called “Kone” that is unique to the Cerco company. It covers more than 60 languages including Baoule, Bete and Dioula, which are spoken in Côte d’Ivoire.
Cerco hopes to expand this to 1,000 languages, reaching half of the continent’s population, thanks to help from a network of 3,000 volunteers.
The goal is to address the frustration some people feel with technology, said Cerco President Alain Capo-Chichi, a Beninese national.
“Various institutions set down the priority of making people literate before making technology available to them,” he told Agence France-Presse. “Our way skips reading and writing and goes straight to integrating people into economic and social life.”
Other companies investing in the voice-operation field in Africa include Mobobi, which has created a Twi language voice assistant in Ghana called Abena AI. Mozilla is working on an assistant in Kiswahili, which has an estimated 100 million speakers in East Africa.
The Ivoirian phone is being produced at the ICT and Biotechnology Village in Grand-Bassam, a free-trade zone near the Ivoirian capital.
It came about through close collaboration with the government. The company pays no taxes or customs duties, and the assembly plant has benefited from a subsidy of more than 2 billion CFA francs.
In exchange, Cerco is to pay 3.5% of its income to the state and train about 1,200 young people each year.