India is closer to its much-touted target of a US$35 tablet, with DataWind, a wireless Web access products maker in Montreal, designing and making a device that it will sell to the government for $50.
The country's Minister of Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal, launched the tablet, called Aakash, on Wednesday. The tablet will likely be distributed at a subsidy to students in higher education in the country.
DataWind has been able to get to a price of $38 for the tablet which has a 7-inch display with 800-by-480 pixel resolution, 256MB of RAM, 2GB flash storage, and a 366MHz processor from Connexant. The tablet runs the Android 2.2 operating system.
Local sales taxes, performance guarantees, and an exacting replacement warranty have taken the price to the government up to $50, said Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of DataWind in an interview.
The target is to get to $35 per unit, inclusive of warranty, once volumes pick up.
The Indian government is expected to buy 8 million to 10 million units of the device by March 31, 2012, the end of the Indian fiscal year, Tuli said. The first order of 100,000 units will be executed from a factory in Hyderabad over the next six weeks, he added.
Tuli said that Sibal's vision and the commitment of business from the government had driven the company to accept the challenge to come up with a device at about $35.
The Aakash tablet has been designed, developed and manufactured by DataWind, in partnership with an educational institution, IIT Rajasthan, DataWind said in a statement.
The design of the product was done by DataWind between its centers in Montreal and India, Tuli said. IIT Rajasthan is coordinating the project, including firming up the specifications, and doing the field testing.
DataWind plans to market the product in a number of emerging markets, and also commercially in India in November where the price will be about $60 with added GPRS (general packet radio service) capability, which will allow it to double as a phone. Higher-end versions of the product will also be launched in less price-sensitive markets like the U.K. and the U.S.
India's low-cost computer had a number of false starts and experimentation with the government at one point talking about a $10 laptop. Officials in the Department of Higher Education, however, clarified that the device would not be a laptop.
In July last year, the country's Ministry of Human Resource Development announced a $35 computing and access device for students of colleges and universities. The price of the device, which was to be designed by Indian academic research and education institutions, was eventually dropped to $10, according to a statement from the ministry.
India did not sign up for the One Laptop Per Child program after officials in the education ministry decided that giving a computer to every child is "pedagogically suspect" and may actually be detrimental to the growth of the creative and analytical abilities of the child.
The configuration of the DataWind tablet is adequate for most applications including HD quality video, reading books, and basic office applications, according to Tuli. The company makes up for the lower speed of the processor by using compression acceleration technologies that shift a part of the processing during Web browsing from the device to the cloud, Tuli said.
DataWind was able to achieve a low price for the device by its vertical integration model which includes designing its boards, integrating some components in-house, developing the middleware, and making the touch panels, he added.