How the Aakash tablet bounced back
Monday, September 24, 2012
Internet-connected tablets, as I’ve explained before, have the potential to positively impact billions. Cell phones improved commerce and changed society by allowing, among other things, the poorest villagers in the developing world to connect with one another. The Internet will catalyze the next leap forward by providing those in the developing world access to the same ocean of knowledge as those in wealthier societies. This will transform education and revolutionize commerce.
When India announced its $35 Aakash tablet roughly two years ago, it made front-page news. From the specs, it was clearly a rudimentary device for those unable, perhaps, to afford an iPad or top-of-the-line smartphone. And like every first version of a new technology, the tablet had problems. The Indian media quickly and mercilessly trashed it, with top publications writing the tablet’s obituary.
In October 2011, I met India’s education minister Kapil Sibal at a State Department-hosted event in Washington, D.C. I asked if the Aakash would ever become a reality. He insisted it would and gave me his own tablet. He also shared his vision for the Aakash – one in which the tablet would revolutionize education.
I was impressed but worried. Aakash was clearly a breakthrough — an Internet-enabled device at an incredibly low price point. But it was not good enough for the target market of first-time technology users. It also wasn’t robust enough. I wrote to Sibal suggesting that he “declare victory” and discontinue this model, then allow the manufacturer of the Aakash, Datawind, whose CEO I was introduced to by Pentium chip inventor Vinod Dham, to provide a better product for the same price. I suggested he call this “Aakash 2.” I had also convinced Datawind CEO Suneet Tulli that this made economic sense.