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Wed 5 Oct 2011 12:13 PM

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India launches world's cheapest tablet computer

Named Aakash, the device will initially be available in a pilot run of 100,000 units

India launches world's cheapest tablet computer
Amazons Kindle Fire has shaken up the global tablet market, with its $199 price tag

India launched what it dubbed the world's cheapest tablet computer 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 US 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.

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Jatin Vadgama 8 years ago

BRAVO INDIA! another shinning example of Indian brains. Whatever the world says about Indians, they have the brains to show that they can do it. This is happening in spite of so much political hurdles and non-encouragement in the form of taxes, and red tape, etc. Imagine what a billion Indian minds could achieve if they were set free from all those unproductive hurdles.

procan 8 years ago

Jatin do not want to rain on your parade but aakash was developed in Canada by Canadian educate students from York University,and by the way Canada has always known of India talent that why we try to grow it here in a pure education environment with no distractions

Anup G 8 years ago

1.2 billion are poor???? where does reuter get these facts from? Indians wealth has increased 3.5tr$ in last decade and wit hever growing middle class. India is one of the biggest consumer based country depending entirely on thier manufacturing not imports. Unlike USA and UK.

procan 8 years ago

Anup, CIA world Facts...check it out?

Anup G 8 years ago

Procan, another fact sheet from Western nations. With all due respect, western(escpcially american) reports nd surverys are mostly untrue and based on twisted facts.

Telcoguy 8 years ago

@Anup is the Tendulkar Committee good enough for you (37% of population BPL)? Or are they also part of the western (esp American) Neo imperialist attempts?
If you go out of your middle class cocoon you will see how much of that wealth has trickled to the bottom of society.

SP 8 years ago

Finally Mr.Sibal has found out what the 1.2 billion poor and ordinary people in India need - A TABLET COMPUTER !!!

eddie 8 years ago

@telco guy & procan - have u been to india lately or did any study of indian economics? the fact book and other studies are based on india's "declared money with individuals" for your info there is a grey economy out there 10 times the size of its actual. If you ever visit india and make an effort to know you will. value of land and properties are comparable to all western countries. Keeping in mind the PPP (purchase power parity) and the value of gold dangling on indian women i would not state that indians are poor. rather they are a saving people. A neat comparison traof daily wages for a labourer in the seemingly prosperous state of kerala is equiv: of AED 50/- (3us$) per day for 5 hours of work time. construction cost is AED400 per sq feet for a sensible dwelling. So before commenting on something which you dont know please study the facts on the ground

joseph 8 years ago

can somebody tells what is the specs of this so called indian tablet? who knows maybe it's 1kb memory/2kb hd

procan 8 years ago

Anup I researched Suresh Tendulkar, a distinguishied Indian who is educated at New Delhi School of economics,Harvard University and is highly regarded in India and abroad . telcoguy is right this committee has a high degree of credibility and Mr Tendulkar is a superior statistician and patriot of India