Devanik Saha

Aakash: Game Changer or Another Brick in the Wall?

Technology has become an integral part of our lives, as the craze around iPhones, iPods, iPads, Android tablets, laptops, etc. has spread all across the world and prices continue to fall. But, can the BoP segment afford, let alone productively use, such high priced electronics? The example of the One Laptop Per Child initative (as analyzed by NextBillion Writer Sadna Samaranayake last week) is one cautionary tale about the limits of technology adoption by the poor. With the considerable buzz surrounding the Indian government’s release of the low cost tablet “Aakash,” will the BoP market truly have something to cheer for?

“Aakash,” touted to be the world’s cheapest tablet, was launched by the Indian government last week. The $35 tablet is being manufactured by DataWind, a UK based telecom device maker. Previously nicknamed Sakshat, it was distributed via pilot program to 500 primary school, rural and impoverished students from around the country.

The $35 tablet will be available at a retail price of $60 (Rs2999) for non students. It comes with a seven-inch 800×400 resistive touch screen. It runs on Android 2.2 Froyo OS and is powered by 366 MHz + HD video co-processor. For connectivity, it has an inbuilt WiFI support and can connect a data card for 3G and GPRS connectivity. The device comes with a 2GB of storage memory, which can be extended up to 32GB via microSD.

Aakash Really the World’s Cheapest Laptop?

The launch of the famous Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car, helped tag India as both the world’s biggest producer and market for low-cost products for low income customers. But while Nano was indeed the world’s cheapest car, it has faced a lot of criticism due to its low market performance both in India and in other countries. At least as it pertains to the cost, this not the same in case of Aakash. In fact, there are cheaper or nearly equal cost tablets as Aakash with better specifications already on the market.

Take the example of “I-slate“, a joint project of Nanyang Technological University and Rice University’s Institute for Sustainable and Applied Infodynamics (ISAID). I Slate is expected to cost around 50$ which makes it cheaper than Aakash. It has been tested with children of 10-13 years in schools outside Hyderabad, India with impressive results and will go into production next year. Another interesting aspect of I-slate is that it is solar powered, which makes it less dependent on charging through electricity in villages that hardly get 2-3 hours of power a day.

I did some more research on low cost tablets available in the general market which are available worldwide and it turned out that there is a seven-inch tablet running Android 2.2 OS with an 800 MHZ Cortex-A8 processor, 256 MB RAM and 2GB hard drive, built-in camera at a price of around $40.

There also are many Chinese models running various Android versions with faster better processors between the price ranges of $40-$50.

Many people are very skeptical about Aakash, and they have the right reasons to be. In the past the government, launched similar projects like Simputer in 2002 and Mobilis in 2005, which have now vanished into thin air. Before annointing Aakash the low-cost tablet for the BoP, let’s wait and watch to see if it can really make inroads into the BoP market, or suffer the same fate as its predecessors.

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