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How an Ivorian created the first locally-made smartphone to improve accessibility with voice commands in local languages for users

An Ivorian entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has created the country’s first locally-made smartphone, which aims to improve accessibility with voice commands in local languages for users who can’t read and write.

The phone, called “Open G”, went on sale last month in the West African country. It can understand commands and respond in 16 of Ivory Coast’s approximately 60 spoken languages, including Dioula, Senoufo and Bété.

Ivorian entrepreneur, Alain Capo-Chichi has made history by creating the country’s first-ever locally-made smartphone, which aims to improve accessibility with voice commands in 16 of the 60 local languages in Ivory Coast for users who can’t read and write. It is the world’s first indigenous smartphone.

Alain Capo-Chichi is originally from Benin but settled in Ivory Coast. He is the first entrepreneur to set up a computer assembly plant in West Africa. Alain called his phone the “Open G” smartphone, which had already hit the market last month and sold thousands of units.

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Customers buy the Open G smartphone, which can speak local Ivorian languages, at a shop in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

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Workers manufacture Open G smartphones, which can speak local Ivorian languages, at a factory in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast

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A customer holds the Open G smartphone, which can speak local Ivorian languages, at a shop in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

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A worker packs an Open G smartphone, which can speak local Ivorian languages, at the factory where the phones are manufactured 

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Workers manufacture Open G smartphones, which can speak local Ivorian languages, at a factory in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast

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Workers manufacture Open G smartphones, which can speak local Ivorian languages, at a factory in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast

Alain Capo-Chichi said he wanted to create the phone to help people like his parents, who are illiterate and can’t type and read messages like the younger ones, use features like transferring money and sending messages. Many Africans like our parents and aunties are not conversant with the English Language and typing it is as difficult as speaking it.

In Africa, the problem we have… is that reading, and writing is not accessible to everyone. What we’ve done is try to help our parents who have difficulty with their smartphones… But why not make it easier by giving priority to commands since speech is three times faster than writing. People can use their smartphones much more easily by simply speaking to them.

Africa has over 2,000 languages, which makes the continent the most diverse continent in the world. For Ivory Coast, there are 60 local languages in the country. Most smartphones that come to Africa like the Samsung, iPhone, Huwaei and others don’t come with most local languages in Africa and their voice commands don’t recognize African local dialects. This makes it difficult for Africa’s ageing people to use smartphones due to the lack of accessibility and language barrier. Social media apps like WhatsApp are the most used application among older people in Africa, who uses the application by using voice messages in order to convey a message to their relatives, sons and daughters abroad. These older people most times can only talk to their family members via WhatsApp using voice messages.

Alain told news reporters that he created the phone to solve this problem and ease the lives of the illiterate and ageing population in Ivory Coast. The Open G smartphone has voice accessibility settings that can help blind, cognitively, and physically disabled people interact more seamlessly with the world around them without the help of other people. The Open G smartphone has a similar voice command interface to Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa.

We don’t need to alphabetize people. We don’t need to teach them to read and write. We just need to take them as they are and insert them into economic life. From now on I simply speak to send money to someone, I simply speak and I manage my economic activity, I simply speak, and I can know. Before, I needed to read and write in order to know. For a state like Côte d’Ivoire, we need the involvement of all its sons to be able to manage the country.

Alain told CGTN

Open G manufacturing plant is in Grand Bassam, East of Abidjan, capital of Ivory Coast. The smartphone is also available in Benin, Burkina Faso, and DRC. The price varies from $45 to $90.

Alain plans to incorporate over 1,00 local languages in Africa into the voice command and language sect of his smartphone. “Beyond the fifty languages we have done which includes sixteen Ivorian languages, we want to reach one thousand African languages. We are happy there are already almost two thousand speakers who have registered. We are working with them today,” he said.

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