Electronics Assembly to Central Africa
“When you think about electronics manufacturing, you probably don’t automatically think about Africa. You are about to meet somebody who would like to change your mind about that. His name is Tony Smith, and he is the CEO and Founder of Limitless Electronics.” That’s how Slashdot Editor Timothy Lord introduces this video. And that’s what it’s about: Former Microsoft employee Tony Smith at CES 2013 talking about his efforts to bring electronics assembly and distribution to his native country, Cameroon, through his company, Limitless Electronics.
Timothy Lord: When you think about electronics manufacturing, you probably don’t automatically think about Africa. You are about to meet somebody who would like to change your mind about that. His name is Tony Smith, and he is the CEO and Founder of Limitless Electronics.
Tony Smith: My name is Tony Smith. I am President and CEO of Limitless Electronics, a company that I founded in April 2011, based in Seattle, Washington. And we design and manufacture consumer electronic products. Our line of products includes desktops, PCs, smart phones, tablets and TVs. We offer our own brand Limitless with a few sub brands that we added recently, like the Re|act line, the Fleet line for professionals and [subscriptions] for music for infotainment people.
And we also operate factories and we are building right now our hybrid office in Africa that will pretty much assemble different components that we are using to build our devices.
Timothy Lord: What part of Africa?
Tony Smith: In Cameroon, central Africa. This is where the company is based in Africa. And the choice of this country is because it is my country. I am from there. I was raised over there so I just return to my country what I can do to have them go forward.
Timothy Lord: Now it is unusual to see electronics manufacturer in Africa.
Tony Smith: It is unusual but if you actually watch the technology trend for the last few years in Africa, you will see that there is lot of progress in terms of technology. First of all, Africa is a continent that is growing faster than any other any other continent in the world. Some quick facts about it, a very important market in Africa is the mobile market. We have right now 735 million subscribers, active subscribers for the cell phone, and this is actually an opportunity to help manufacturers of devices like smart phone, tablet, and connectivity to look at it because the market for technology is going to grow really really fast and even past the US market.
Timothy Lord: There is a very well developed infrastructure for manufacturing in South East Asia, in China. What about in Africa? How do you contrast it?
Tony Smith: It is totally different. There is no infrastructure right now. But we have a lot of potential. I am very familiar with China and Asia, the labor cost is very high over there; in Africa it is cheap, and we have skilled people that just need to be given the opportunity to do something. So I believe that Africa will be the second largest manufacturing city in the world and the initiatives that Limitless is doing right now would help move that process quickly.
Timothy Lord: Now what is the background on Limitless as a company? How did you come to be knowledgeable about the manufacturing processes, and what is your technical background? How did you end up where you are right now?
Tony Smith: First of all, when I was a kid, I was very fascinated by electronics. My dream was to work for Sony like engineer, like fixing things. And in my neighborhood, I was the tech guy. I was fixing TVs, radio for all the neighborhood. So my initial background is a legal background. So when I moved to the United States in 2007, to live permanently here, I joined Microsoft where I was working for Bing, Xbox, and also recently before I left Microsoft, I was supporting the department of Office 365 that they call Business Solutions. And the way I was at Microsoft, I was already into the technology industry, but as an advocate I was working very closely with the Consumer Electronic Association, that was your CES, to help promote their CES event in Africa. I attended CES in 2006, and the first few years, I was just working to discover what is actually the consumer technology show. And as years go along, I was bringing more people to attend the show and share this wonderful opportunity.
Timothy Lord: How did you learn so much about manufacturing?
Tony Smith: I learned about manufacturing through CES. Actually when I came here, I saw different devices, I explained, I learned terms that I never knew before, and when I joined the World Electronic Forum, that was actually the click for jumping into the manufacturing process. I met with more than 170 associations around the world, that manage consumer electronics in their countries. And particularly with China, I asked questions about how actually the devices – how manufacturers do to have the devices and into the hand of the consumer. I went to China. I invested a lot of time. I was working for Microsoft at that time. I was traveling on the weekend, come back on Monday, sometimes taking a day off, sometimes lying that,‘Hey I am sick, I want to stay home,’ but actually I’m in China researching the market.
Timothy Lord: Not many people can say that they played hooky to go to China on the weekend.
Tony Smith: Yeah. I invested a lot of time, money, and I took a lot of risk. This is something that I know very well how to do, taking big risks. So I went to China, I discovered exactly the process that companies follow – consumer electronics companies follow to have the product in the hand of the consumer. Like the process, the components, the technology behind it, the engineering, this is actually what I found from China.
Timothy Lord: And you have actually, you have done something that a lot of companies here haven’t, which is you have actually come out with a product that is available now. Would you mind giving us a look? I want to ask you afterward about a little about the statements that you made about OS independence. But first, can we take a look at some of your hardware?
Tony Smith: Sure. First of all, I will introduce our flagship product, the Limitless Re|act line, and this is a Limitless slate. It is 9 mm thin, 7 inch, 42 gig of memory, a dual core inside, 3G capable, so actually you can connect using AT&T, T-Mobile on it and it works for any other countries that use the GSM and GPRS technology. And the device is completely ready to hit the market, so we already started shipping it for private clients right now. And we will be releasing the general consumer in March, and we are going to hit 190 countries immediately. So the particulars of this device compared to other manufacturer is that the price point. We are not a lack-of company, we are not producing cheap products or degrading the quality of the device, but we want to do something affordable but combined with quality.
This is why we adopted “Innovation Released” as our tagline. At Limitless, we identified a technology whatever is sound and we’ll bring them the way they can fit the consumer. And the experience that we want to provide through our devices is to let the users decide what they want. We don’t want the user to just come and find something that is already made, and just take it, and later they find out that it is not what they want actually. So in order to move to this way, we decided to let the user select which OS they want to run, and we have a choice of two OS right now, Ubuntu or Android.
This is actually something that no one is doing right now. Usually, when you go to shopping for your devices, you have a choice about the color, sometimes white or black, but that is it. But from us, you can even select the mega pixel of your camera, do you want 8 mega pixel or a 5 mega pixel, Ubuntu or Android, 60 gigs of memory or 120, so you select the features. And in our website we are going to release every feature that users can decide, can select and build their own customized devices.
Timothy Lord: How about screen technology?
Tony Smith: The screen technology? Right now, we have a good supplier of screen technology. The display that we are working on right now, we have Samsung and LG as a partner to supply us our display. It is actually great. It is 1080p and the resolution is gorgeous. So we found that display, we don’t focus too much on that, because it is something standard. Hopefully in the upcoming months, we are coming with something close to the Retina Display or maybe Amoled, something like that. But so far, the quality is great. You can have a 160 view of the devices, and they play great video on that, and it is a backlight LED.
Timothy Lord: You also have a cell phone on the table, can you talk about that a little bit?
Tony Smith: Yeah. We have a cell phone on the Re|act line, that is ready to be released also, and we will be releasing that next month. On the Re|act line, we have smartphone, we have tablet, we have TVs, something that actually we are working really hard on right now, as we are implementing it in factories in Africa to put all these together. Our TV will be different from what Samsung, Sony and other guys are doing, our TV would be great. We are going to use wood in Africa to make the case, to make the body of the TVs. The components will be partly made in China and Cameroon, because we now have some kind of robot to do some quick assembly. This is for the Re|act product line.
Timothy Lord: And that is what you are calling hybrid manufacturing?
Tony Smith: Yes. Because we are using less people, less space to produce a quantity that fits our client. We don’t want to do super huge, like mega factories that produce in a row 10,000 products that are all the same. No. We want our customer to decide to select the features they want; so we have people that can actually make it.
Timothy Lord: So it’s Just-in-Time manufacturing?
Tony Smith: Exactly. And now I will talk about the second branded flagship of our company, it is the product that is focusing on the professional. We have this one, the Limitless Fleet. We call it Fleet R, R for rugged, because the device is strong, it is very resistant, shock proof, water proof, water resistant as well, it resists to a temperature of up to 95 degrees and -45 degrees also. And it can fall up to 10 feet on concrete without any issue. You can even play soccer or football with that. And the peculiarity the devices is that you can actually use it for Push-To-Talk walkie talkie up to 7 km. So it is a very rugged device and it is good for companies, good for teams, and the other feature of that we are bringing to this device, it is not only on the hardware, but on the software.
Now to provide that controlling, different jobs on the market, it would be difficult to find a device that can actually fit what you want. With this device, when you control the work, you see some mistake, you snap a picture, and you can record, ‘Okay I see a small crack here, it is not good’ and you just continue; at the end of the day you sit in front of your computer, you see that the software makes up a report, including a picture and transcribes your voice to text and makes it very well, nice design report that is sent to your manager and the team that you are working with.
Timothy Lord: Now was this designed in Cameroon?
Tony Smith: This is not designed in Cameroon. This is designed in China and we also have offices in Korea, in the city of Sandu a very beautiful city. But this one we did the design in Cameroon. We did the design in Cameroon, but we don’t want to say that it is made in Africa, because no, 90 percent of what is inside here is made in China.
We want to make sure that people understand the way we are going. But our strategy now about the African market is to bring a high-end consumer product that will represent Africans to the global world. And we don’t only want to sell in Africa. We want to go global. This is why we are releasing to 190 countries on March 16th. And this will be the product that will compete. It will be available in the US as well. Europe, we already tied a deal. And one thing that I didn’t explain about the device is that, it is going to be pre-built with applications that fit each industry, like infotainment, professional people, gadget fans, stuff like that.
And yesterday, that is great news, we set up a partnership with the main music provider Grooveshark; Grooveshark is going to power our devices. All our clients will have an unlimited year of free on-demand subscription. So that is something that we are actually using to make our tablet for infotainment.
Timothy Lord: Great. If somebody wanted to learn more about your company, and about these products, where would you send them?
Tony Smith: I would send them to my website that will be available today, because we released pretty much everything yesterday, and the website is www.limitlesselectronics.com, and on this website you can have all the information about what we are doing, the devices, information about our upcoming projects, and you can also follow us on Twitter @limitlessnews on Facebook.com/limitlesselectronics. And we will be very glad to continue working and releasing innovations that represent Africa. Actually we are very proud to represent Africa into the global market.