October 05, 2011

India launches "world's cheapest" tablet Aakash

October 05, 2011

(Reuters) - India launched what it dubbed the world's cheapest tablet computer on Wednesday, to be sold to students at the subsidised price of $35 and later in shops for about $60.

Most of India's 1.2 billion people are poor and products such as Apple Inc's iPad are beyond the reach even of many in the fast-growing middle class.

"The rich have access to the digital world, the poor and ordinary have been excluded. Aakash will end that digital divide," Telecoms and Education Minister Kapil Sibal said.

The government is buying the first units of the lightweight touch-screen device, called Aakash, or "sky" in Hindi, for $50 each from a British company which is assembling the web-enabled devices in India.

A pilot run of 100,000 units will be given to students for free, with the first 500 handed out at the launch to a mixed response. It supports video conferencing, has two USB ports and a three-hour battery life but some users said it was slow.

India has a reputation for creating affordable products that are easy to use and sturdy enough to handle its rugged environment -- from Tata Motors' $2,000 Nano car to generic versions of pharmaceuticals.

Two years in development, the paperback book-sized Aakash may help the government's goal of incorporating information technology in education, although critics were doubtful of its mass appeal.

Despite being a leader in software and IT services, India trails fellow BRIC nations Brazil, Russia and China in the drive to get the masses connected to the Internet and mobile phones, a report by risk analysis firm Maplecroft said this year.

The number of Internet users grew 15-fold between 2000 and 2010 in India, according to another recent report. Still, just 8 percent of Indians have access. That compares with nearly 40 percent in China.

The Aakash is aimed at university students for digital learning via a government platform that distributes electronic books and courses.

Testing included running video for two hours in temperatures of 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit) to mimic a northern Indian summer, said DataWind, the small London-based company that developed the tablet with the Indian Institute of Technology.

Rajat Agrawal, executive editor of gadget reviewers BGR India, said the 660 mhz processor from U.S. company Conexant Systems was "decent" for the price, but warned the machine seemed slow and the touch screen not very agile.

"Because of the price there is a lot of excitement," he said. "People might use it initially but if it is not user friendly they will give up within a week."

After first giving them out for free, the government aims to sell them to students for $35 next year. A retail version will be sold in Indian shops for about $60.

The device uses resistive LCD displays rather than a full touch screen and connects via wireless broadband. DataWind CEO Suneet Singh said future versions would include a mobile phone connection, making it more useful in rural areas.

The launch last week of Amazon's Kindle Fire shook up the global tablet market, with its $199 price tag and slick browser a serious threat to Apple's iPad.

Like the Kindle Fire, the Aakash uses the Google Android operating system.

Some of the mainly middle-class technology department students at the event said it needed refinement but was a good option for the poor.

"It could be better," said Nikant Vohra, an electrical engineering student. "If you see it from the price only, it's okay, but we have laptops and have used iPads, so we know the difference."

Some 19 million people subscribe to mobile phones every month, making India the world's fastest growing market, but most are from the wealthier segment of the population in towns.

(Additional reporting by Annie Banerji and Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Paul de Bendern and Nick Macfie)


NEW DELHI: The world's cheapest tablet computer was launched in India on Wednesday with 500 school students becoming the first few recipients. Telecom and HRD minister Kapil Sibal launched the tablet - Aakash - priced at $35 (Rs 1,750) for students pursuing graduation and said that the government aimed to increase production to bring down the cost of the tablet to less than $10 (Rs 500). The government is sourcing the tablet from UK-based Datawind at Rs 2,256 - inclusive of all taxes, levies, freight and insurance charges, servicing and documentation.

The first lot of 100,000 tablets will be provided to states at Rs 1,750 per tablet. "Our ultimate aim is that in the coming years this tablet should cost less than $10. Datawind has said that if an order of one million units is placed the cost of the tablet (to the government) would be Rs 1,750 ($35), on which the government will offer a 50% subsidy (while giving it to students)," Sibal said.

He added that the private sector was also interested in providing subsidy to help the government achieve the sub-$10 cost for the tablet.

Aakash is the first government initiative in the crowded tablet market in India, with more than a dozen Indian and multinational tablet makers vying for a share of the three-lakh-units-a-year market. The world's cheapest tablet comes to India at a time when Apple's iPad holds more than half the market, followed by Samsung's Galaxy that has cornered roughly a quarter and the rest of the turf occupied by low-cost manufacturers. The $35-tablet is Wi-Fi enabled with a 7-inch touch screen and is based on Google's Android 2.2 operating system. It has an internal storage capacity of 2GB which can be increased to 32 GB with an SD card, a battery backup of nearly three hours and two USB ports.

Datawind, which makes the tablet in Hyderabad at 700 units a day, will begin selling the tablet commercially by end of November at Rs 2,999 with a year-long warranty, under the brand name of UbiSlate, the company's chief executive officer Suneet Singh Tuli said. UbiSlate will come with an inbuilt 2G SIM for web access, with an internet plan at .`99 per month, from an Indian mobile operator, which Datawind is finalising as of now

Aakash to fit small pockets, not for Apple addicts
- ‘World’s cheapest tablet’ comes with low price and some attendant uncertainties

Oct. 5: India today launched “the world’s cheapest tablet” that will eventually be sold at Rs 1,000 to students and Rs 3,000 to others.

Named Aakash, the tablet computer is being promoted as a device that will help bridge the digital divide and make a big difference to distance education. But few who can afford an Apple iPad or a Samsung Galaxy Tab are expected to buy Aakash. One lakh pieces of Aakash, launched by human resource development minister Kapil Sibal today in New Delhi, will be distributed free among state governments so that students can try them out in different weather conditions across the country. Based on the feedback, modifications will be made if required.

The journey to develop Aakash was started nearly five years ago. The original plan was to make available such tablets at $10 (Rs 490) to students — an objective the government today said was still alive. The failure to stick to that priceline was the object of ridicule on some websites today.

“Aakash will eliminate digital illiteracy among students. This is not just for our children alone. This is for all children of the world who have no access to information through communication technology,” Sibal said.

The device was developed by IITs and the Indian Institute of Science. DataWind, a foreign firm owned by an Indian, was given the contract to produce 1 lakh such devices. IIT Rajasthan will further develop the product on the basis of the feedback from the students.

First, the features that should win Aakash applause.

Aakash has no competition in terms of price. The cost of Aakash is pegged at Rs 2,276 ($46), including all taxes. The price will come down to Rs 1,750 ($35) once the government asks for bulk purchase after the trial run that may last six months to one year, Sibal said.

The government will give subsidy of Rs 800 on each device, bringing the cost to nearly Rs 1,000 apiece.

The subsidised devices will be given to students through their institutions. The product is expected to be available in the open market for nearly Rs 3,000.

Mainstream tablets with similar specifications sell for Rs 5,000-plus even after discounts. The price tag makes Aakash accessible to those who so far have not been able to afford any computing device. The big daddy — Apple’s iPad costs a $600 (Rs 30,000) in India. Last week, Amazon’s Kindle Fire shook up the global tablet market with a price tag of $199 (Rs 9,750). The cheapest tablet so far has been the HP Touchpad at $99 (Rs 4,851).

The range of features Aakash is offering at its ultra-low price-point is fabulous — support for video, audio, pictures, documents and e-books, 7-inch touch screen, Wi-fi, 3G, expandable storage and USB port. Since it is based on the Android platform, users should be able to access the vast Google resources, most notably the Android Market.

“Because of the price there is a lot of excitement,” said Rajat Agrawal, the executive editor of gadget reviewers BGR India. “People might use it initially but if it is not user-friendly, they will give up within a week.”

Now the less effusive points.

At 366 MHz, Aakash’s current processor is too small and at least four times weaker than other mainstream tablets. The commercial version of Aakash is expected to have a processor of 600 MHz. Its storage of 2GB is also eight times lower than that of the iPad.

When it comes to serving the mainstream consumer, Aakash has many shortcomings such as inability to play HD films or television shows smoothly and lack of camera and microphone, which makes video chatting impossible. So Aakash is best assessed only as an educational tool for underprivileged children.

Aakash’s battery can run for three hours at a stretch, according to officials. This is far lower than the eight hours many mainstream tablets offer. If children are to use Aakash as an educational tool, its battery needs to last at least one long study session. Children are unlikely to have the patience to charge the battery every couple of hours. In a land of power cuts, they may not be able to either.

Only a limited amount of content can be stored in the tablet because of its low disk space (which can be increased by adding a memory card but underprivileged children will find it difficult to afford such add-ons). Children will thus be dependent on 3G or Wi-fi access. Wireless Internet is either unavailable or expensive in India. DataWind CEO Suneet Singh said future versions would include a mobile phone connection, making it more useful in rural areas.

The tablet cannot be used for education unless videos of lectures, e-textbooks and educational software are readily available. Educational content customised for Indian schoolchildren is difficult to find. “There is hardly any e-content for school students. The biggest challenge will be to develop e-content for school students in vernacular. Once we develop such courses, the device can be utilised properly,” IIT Guwahati director Gautam Barua told The Telegraph.

Aakash uses resistive LCD displays rather than a full touch screen. This may mean the screen is more suited for stylus (a pen-shaped instrument) rather than plain fingers, although resistive touch screens should be as easy to operate with fingers as with stylus. Some students who tried out Aakash felt that the touch screen was not very agile.

Some of the mainly middle-class students at today’s event said it needed refinement but was a good option for the poor.

“It could be better,” said Nikant Vohra, an electrical engineering student. “If you see it from the price only, it’s okay, but we have laptops and have used iPads, so we know the difference.”

IIT Rajsthan director Prem Kalra said each state government would be provided with nearly 3,300 tablets. “The specifications may further be enhanced on the basis of feedback of students,” Kalra said.


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UDoIT said...

Great. But when will this vapout-ware become a reality, which can be purchased from the market and actually used ?

In IT, esp Hardware, the shelf life is less than 6 months. SO the window for Aakash, is till Oct. 2012 max !