Friday, February 28, 2014

Haiti's Android tablet maker Surtab to crank up production

The stark and sterile white room in an industrial park in Port-au-Prince is a world away from the chaos and colour of the annual carnival, but both are being touted as part of a new "Made in Haiti" brand.

The clean room, to use its official name, is a 2,000 sq ft space where Haiti's first tablet computers are assembled. There are three models of the Surtab Android tablets, the most expensive of which is not dissimilar to an iPad Mini or Samsung Galaxy – but at half the price.

"They show that Haiti can do hi-tech manufacturing and assembly," says Maarten Boute, Surtab's Belgian CEO and co-founder. "Everyone knows Haiti, but for the wrong reasons. Now, Surtab associates the Haiti brand with something cool."

At $100 (£60) plus local taxes for the cheapest model and $285 for the high-definition Surtab 7, the Haitian tablet is an oddity in a country better known for hunger, extreme poverty and near-mediaeval healthcare.

The Danish philanthropist JP Bak came with the idea as a jobs-creation scheme while he was working in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, Boute says, but the trigger was the much-hyped low-cost Aakash tablet manufactured in India. "We thought, why can't we do the same here? Using components bought in Asia, just like Apple and other companies?"

Boute says the competitive advantage lies in geography and relatively low labour costs. "Microsoft Trinidad wants a low-cost tablet for the Caribbean region. We're at the same wage level as China even though we pay the workers at least twice if not four times the [Haitian] minimum wage," he says.

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