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A conversation with Suneet Tuli
November 29, 2012 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Gamechanger: $25 tablets, $2 mobile data plans, and zero margins–how the internet is about to gain 3 billion new users and a look inside that world’s cheapest tablet computer, India’s Aakash 2 - includes video.
posted by spock (18 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Journalism numbers, *sigh*. 3 billion? Are you sure? I know how many people live in those countries, and how many are children, poor, or otherwise not mobile users. I find that number potentially inaccurate.

But that's the thing with journalism numbers. "Estimates indicate over 50 million people in the US have suffered from a seizure disorder at some point in their lives...", "48 million people have experienced a freak blender accident during their childhood," or "200 million people use CB radios for internet access," etc. It's like, either I and my loved ones lead very fortunate lives, or there's a part of the United States or the world with people the good Lord has shitteth upon.

*Clicks link and it won't load*

Or, maybe there are 3 billion very excited people. Hrm...
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 12:24 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, but then again, they would need internet access to bog it down. Maybe it's the CB radios...
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 12:25 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Journalism numbers,

But 3 billion isn't the journalism number. 50,000 is.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:35 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


OLPC!
posted by OwlBoy at 12:35 PM on November 29, 2012


Great. Spamming is about to get even cheaper.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:44 PM on November 29, 2012


The big problem Google and Amazon face with their own Android tablets is a dearth of tablet apps. If Datawind can overcome that scarcity, they will likely be successful in selling users to advertisers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:50 PM on November 29, 2012


It's like, either I and my loved ones lead very fortunate lives, or there's a part of the United States or the world with people the good Lord has shitteth upon.

It's a huge mix of both, leaning heavily towards the latter for the rest of the world outside of industrialized/industrial nations. And it's not the Lord doing the shittething but bankers, plutocrats, technocrats and the governments in cahoots or thrall of the former.

But let's just look at the US. There are 8 million unoccupied homes and just 3.5 million homeless people in the US. Over 46 million people are on food stamps. Approximately 1 in 2 people in the US is currently under the poverty line.

If you've never been homeless, evicted, bankrupted, truly hungry and lacking in food, jobless or income-less for more than a 6-12 months - you and your loved ones have had very fortunate lives.

Globally speaking that means you're in the top 10% to 1% of income levels even if you're living hand to mouth and in credit debt. That goes for basically everyone here on MetaFilter, including me.

And I'm unemployed, on disability and struggling with a chronic mental illness. I'm currently fighting an eviction summons even though I finally found and qualified for rent assistance program a mere few days before being served my summons. I just got back from the courthouse seeking legal aid and filing my response and defense. My phone is empty and it has no minutes. I currently don't have internet or cable at home and I'm stealing/borrowing unsecured WiFi from either the condo next door or the coffee shop or a kind neighbor (not sure which, but thank you if you're reading your local packets or something.)

And I'm still very fortunate and thankful. I have food stamps. I've found free legal aid. My state an county has strong renter protection laws. Friends and family have helped keep me housed in one place for the longest single period of my life. I'm still struggling, but still moving forward inch by inch. I have clean water and a bathroom and a computer. I have health insurance, too, and there's a lot of people here with more stable incomes who don't even have that.

All of this still puts me in the top tiers of global income and health care.

And if it wasn't for the internet I would have had a much more difficult time surviving any of this.

So, yeah, a $25 dollar tablet and cheap internet in the undeveloped or developing world is a really big deal. A really huge big fat deal. There are so many places that don't even have libraries or centralized resources for information of all kinds to walk into and find useful information.

Putting it in the hands of a few hundred million to a billion people who may have never even seen more than a book or two at once or any books at all is a big stinkin' deal. It's not superfluous at all, it's essential and incredibly useful.

Imagine being a subsistence farmer or slum-dweller. Imagine never having clean water. Or never even seen a school. Or imagine never having seen or talked to a doctor, or not knowing how to prevent STDs, HIV or pregnancies.

Imagine being able to access information that provides solutions, how to make clean water cheaply, how to plant and rotate crops more efficiently, how to use natural fertilizers or how to compost.

The list of things that are positive about this far outweigh any of our trite concerns about spammers and scammers.

This is not a small thing. It's a very big and useful thing.
posted by loquacious at 12:57 PM on November 29, 2012 [43 favorites]


There are 8 million unoccupied homes and just 3.5 million homeless people in the US.

I keep seeing this, and it blows my mind. I always hear, "You can't just give homeless people homes.", and i wonder why not? Heck, have them share, and maybe having a place to call home will help them out of whatever bad situation they were in. Also, if there are that many unoccupied, why are builders encouraged to keep building?
posted by usagizero at 1:02 PM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just when I begin to despair that MeFi comments are going the way of YouTube comments, loquacious comes along and restores a little of my faith in the Blue.
posted by spock at 1:03 PM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


3 billion? Are you sure?

The figure from TFA comes from:

Six billion cell phone subscriptions are spread across five billion of the earth’s seven billion people, says Suneet Tuli, CEO of Datawind, maker of the world’s cheapest tablet computer. Yet only two billion people are connected to the internet, which means three billion people have everything they need to connect to the internet—except a suitable device.
posted by pompomtom at 2:01 PM on November 29, 2012


A couple of months ago I received a 50$ Android tablet that I ordered through one of the Alibaba offshoots. The total price was something like 49.99$ + 12$ in shipping. Really not too bad, considering that I ordered a single unit, and had it shipped by air-mail.

It was actually surprisingly useful, probably with the same specs as the Aakash-2 (DataWind Spec) mentioned in the article. Technology wise it is probably better than the HTC Desire / Google Nexus One, which was considered high-end three years ago - much better GPU, more storage (4gb +SD) but no GSM support. The unit I bought had only 512mb of RAM, so the built-in web browser (Android 4.0.4) was a tad slow loading very complex web pages, but 1gb versions are already out at 60$. By this time next year I would be surprised if the 1gb version isn't available at <40$.

IMHO this is an example of "transformational technology", all that is needed now is "transformational software" as well. In particular I would like to see better support for mesh networking and direct tablet-tablet connections, so that tablets can exchange "packages" of data (games, videos, wikipedia pages, Kahn Academy videos translated into Sgaw) without an expensive GSM connection or wifi networks. If Google are clever they'll add something like that in Android 5.0.
posted by Baron Humbert von Gikkingen at 4:21 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I keep seeing this, and it blows my mind. I always hear, "You can't just give homeless people homes.", and i wonder why not? Heck, have them share, and maybe having a place to call home will help them out of whatever bad situation they were in.

This is a very complicated issue. The short answers are "untreated mental illness" and "poor life skills" and "substance abuse".

I've experienced this first hand in that housing doesn't guarantee access to or compliance with treatment or functionality. The stability certainly helps but it's a lot of hard work to make it work. I've bounced in and out of public mental health a couple of times during my stay in this apartment over the last 2.5 years.

For me part of my issue has been that I start to get "better" and I over-reach and decide I want to go get a job and get the hell out of the public safety net, because it's really a sticky net and it's a pain in the ass and a lot of work, so finding real work seems like a good choice to move forward.

But then I end up facing the fact and scenario that I'm still dysfunctional and no one wants to hire someone who is obviously depressed and mentally ill and underdeveloped for a real job, and the pain of that rejection has sent me scurrying back to try to get more help. (My current plan this time around is to seek work rehab in lieu of treatment as an exit plan.)

There are a lot of people who would do well if you gave them a house to work with, but its hard to tell who is ready and who isn't ready for that responsibility.

But I would argue that a major portion of the chronically homeless isn't ready for that responsibility.

When you place someone who isn't ready to be responsible for a home into a home or apartment it ends up getting destroyed. For example, someone who is untreated schizophrenic or, say, bipolar and manic depressive, and who is used to living outdoors - they might not have the same logic processes about not lighting a fire or BBQ in the middle of a bedrooom floor, or not pissing and shitting in the closet.

The other side of this coin is the whole system of property ownership and property values. People don't like having even professionally managed halfway houses or inpatient housing facilities in their neighborhoods because of what happens to their property values.

Even in sanctioned/permitted tent cities there are rules and expectations to meet, and standards to be kept. This is true even in "The Jungle" area on the south side of Seattle where there's an unsanctioned but tolerated tent city, where they apparently even have their own community council or court of some kind.

Also, if there are that many unoccupied, why are builders encouraged to keep building?

Cities and municipalities encourage new building and new subdivisions because of property taxes. Newer and more expensive homes generate more property taxes than older, less expensive homes. Building new homes brings in more income for them than maintaining or supporting older ones, and as technology and efficiencies increase newer homes are cheaper to support with city services than older homes. (Water, gas, electricity, trash, etc.)

Developers develop because they make insane profits at it. It's not really that expensive to build a new home once you have the land and approval, especially as building materials get cheaper and more technologically advanced, and especially in times of recession where labor costs are lower.

They also may be motivated by legitimate tax breaks or public funding by including token amounts of low income housing in the planning, not to mention possible illegal grafts and kickbacks from corrupt city/county governments.

All of this is an illustration of what some anarchists or socialists mean when they say controversial things like "property is theft".

Because in many cases it is actually a form of theft. They're not really talking about individual property ownership or rights. They're really talking about the process of property development and acquisition solely for profit by people who don't really need a home.

Sorry for the derail, but I guess it's kind of related to the poverty issue being addressed in the post. I'm just trying to offer some perspective.
posted by loquacious at 4:31 PM on November 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


I would like to see better support for mesh networking and direct tablet-tablet connections, so that tablets can exchange "packages" of data (games, videos, wikipedia pages, Kahn Academy videos translated into Sgaw) without an expensive GSM connection or wifi networks.

You're talking about Bluetooth file sharing, right? What would be "better" in this area?
posted by LogicalDash at 5:18 PM on November 29, 2012


I applaud these guys, and wish them well, but the no-name Chinese tabs are already sub-$50 shipped at retail, as the Baron said. How much do you think they are per unit wholesale in bulk? I would guess $35-ish.
Some of the elements of this business probably don't stand up to too much scrutiny, like decisions to assemble devices in India, and I think they will get crushed by Chinese manufacturers who stay out of the politics and just concentrate on lowest price.
The model in the video retails for about $100 on their web site, so it is already happening.
posted by bystander at 5:55 PM on November 29, 2012


You're talking about Bluetooth file sharing, right? What would be "better" in this area?

Ideally you would want protocols which facilitate communication within a community, with at least the possibility of sending messages to someone outside of the community if full internet access is not possible. That would require something better than Bluetooth, as in practice you'll not see more than 2.1mbit/s or so with that, and that is with devices really close by each other.

A highlight from my last serious vacation was going hiking in the mountains in northern Myanmar (Burma). Most people there live in houses made from straw mats, in small agrarian villages. In the last few years solar panels have become cheap enough that most villages have at least a few panels installed. These panels are used for recharging mobile phones, maybe even more so than providing light. This is quite surprising given the really high costs of mobile phone services in Myanmar. (A phone might cost 200$, while 4 local farmers might pay a total of 5 kyat for tea at a village store/cafe. The exchange rate was 850 kyat to the dollar when I went there.)

In practice this means that the way people communicate has changed very little, and it won't change much, simply because it is too expensive. But, imagine that 50$ tablets got sponsored to cost 10$, maybe with some extra solar panels for charging. Every tablet could come with enough textbooks and educational material (videos, mp3 files, games and so on) taking someone sufficiently motivated from being illiterate to being able to go to university.

Basically what you would end up with is clusters of tablets in villages, with most communication between the villages still going by ox-cart or motorbike. This is an ideal situation for mesh networking, so that if tablet A knows about tablet C in the other end of the village they can communicate through tablet B in the middle. The One Laptop per Child computers supports this kind of communication (802.11s), so there is nothing new about this. You can do something similar with Ad-hoc networks and Wi-Fi Direct, but that is more for point-to-point communication.

In addition I would like to see a standard package format and background / low bandwidth queuing system, so that you can say "send this collection of web pages" (or whatever) to another tablet, or make it available to all tablets in my local network if they ask if I've got any public files. Also required would be some way of saying "send this collection of files / message to MyPal@village the next time someone goes there by bike or ox-cart". (There are "travelling salesmen" going from village to village, so it is not a big leap that this can be done either manually or by some algorithm.) This is a bit more than what you get with Bluetooth file transfer, but the protocols for file transfer could actually be the same, as long as the connection between the devices is created through other means.

There is nothing really ground-breaking in what I've described above, but it could have a really big positive impact on a lot of people's lives. IMHO it is too bad that Google so far has focused mostly on high-end devices for their Nexus phones and tablets - Imagine if the next Nexus phone had an unsubsidised cost of 40$, was made out thick, ugly plastic, used user-serviceable parts built to last a really long time, and supported mesh networking and some kind of "hikernet" protocol in addition to WiFi (and maybe GSM, for once the owner can afford a SIM card). Yeah, I know that this is a bit of a pipe-dream, but one can dream.

(I wrote a much longer text on this when I was in Myanmar which I should get around to posting somewhere. I put the blame for my lack of motivation to do so solely on first world problems :P)
posted by Baron Humbert von Gikkingen at 7:19 PM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Something else to consider with this tablet is geopolitics being more of a driving force than economics. India isn't really a huge fan of China and China isn't super fond of India, either.

This project isn't just about unit sales or profits but long term infrastructure building in the frugal way that India is really good at as demonstrated in myriad ways from daily tiffin lunchpail delivery services to street food to curbside dentistry to advanced medicine.

And yet they have an active space program, they're heavily militarized and they're even armed with nuclear weapons with the capability to deploy and use them to the point they're nearly at parity with China.

India is an economic powerhouse by both sheer numbers and wealth concentration. They're very independent and maybe even a little tactically concerned about deploying a few hundred million computers at any price from a potential or ongoing adversary whether that opposition is military, cultural or financial.

They're tech savvy, readily industrious, capable and they really like to do things their own way even when oppressed or occupied. I'm not that well read on the subject but from what I do know it's probably arguable that India's revolution against the British Empire is a crucial moment in the decline of said British Empire.

India is not to be underestimated.
posted by loquacious at 9:26 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Datawind manufactures its own LCD screens and touch panels in a fab in Montreal

So, an Indian manufacturer is finding it cheapest to have components manufactured in Canada. That's unexpected to say the least.
posted by outlier at 1:10 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, it would be cheaper to get them from China, but...
posted by LogicalDash at 5:37 AM on November 30, 2012


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