World's cheapest tablet computer
January 2, 2012 7:50 AM   Subscribe

IIT and a firm called Datawind have designed the world's cheapest tablet - costing about $50 for components. Their first customer is the Indian government, and they have had inquiries from several other governments as well. Wikipedia on the Aakash (also called the Ubislate 7); the first are sold out, but may be pre-booked for 3000 rupees (just under $60 USD).
posted by jb (32 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What happened to the $35 price? Is that after the Government subsidy for student purchases?
posted by infini at 7:55 AM on January 2, 2012

Yes - the Indian gov't is subsidizing the price for students (buried in the first link). I wonder if they would consider a buy one-give one option - sell the tablet for $75-100 elsewhere to subsidize below-cost sales in India? (It's unclear just who owns the rights - Wikipedia claims that it was developed by ITT and Datawind, for a contract with the Indian government - maybe that means the Indian state will have some control over it?)

Upon more searching: a review (tl;dr = not great, but very cheap and changing the price of tablets), and a rival.
posted by jb at 8:03 AM on January 2, 2012

And a Bangalore based blogger whom I respect has this to say (me? I have nothing to say on this) while the World Bank's Michael Trucano offers this valuable snippet of links in his post:

Some critics have noted that this is not the first time such a device has been promised for India, recalling the general hoopla that greeted earlier devices like the Simputer and the $100 laptop (OLPC) project. What is different this time around, they ask, and why is the government subsidizing the purchase price of this particular gadget?

Many of the 140 or so people who gathered to hear Tuli speak about this high profile initiative, as well as the 280 or so who joined via webcast, were no doubt intrigued by the device itself. What does it look like? What can, and can't, it do -- and what does it really cost? If you are looking for answers to these sorts of questions, I recommend you have a look at the archived video from Tuli's engaging presentation, as well as his well-considered answers to the avalanche of questions he received during the open Q&A period. You may also be interested in a YouTube video of the Aakash being reviewed on an Indian tech program. (If you check quickly enough, you just might be able to follow the yesterday's commentary on Twitter using the #OpenDTA hashtag before it disappears into the ether.)

And his summation of DataWind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli's talk at the World Bank:

Tuli spoke about many developments and approaches that I found quite encouraging. Here are four themes that I heard from Tuli's talk that stood out for me:

(1) It's not about the device, its about a larger 'sustainable ecosystem'

Tuli talked about the need for a 'sustainable ecosystem', that a low-cost device is just one piece of a larger puzzle, and that catalyzing other actors and partners (and competitors) is key to sustainable growth over time. He sees having incentives for business to participate in this ecosystem is an important way to ensure sustainability. Indeed, over time, the track record for technology initiatives that operate only as charitable efforts is not great, especially those with ambitions of going 'to scale'. That said, building and sustaining an education ecosystem that can take full advantage of the use of new technologies is another matter.

(2) We need to iterate quickly, on mobile -- not PC -- time

Tuli stressed the importance of learning from mistakes (a popular topic here on the EduTech blog, of course!) -- and being able to iterate quickly and improve constantly, regularly bringing out new devices to respond to and address user needs as they become more apparent, taking advantage of various technical improvements and cost savings that happen in the interim. Users have long grown accustomed to manufacturers bringing out new versions of their phones every six to eight months, while new models of computers have traditionally appeared every 16-24 months.

(3) Local production and assembly are important

Just because something happens in the education sector doesn't mean that it happens solely for educational reasons. For better or for worse, it is not uncommon for governments to support educational technology projects because they see that they will help with the development of a key local industry, In addition to the educational objectives, which should be preeminent, large scale ICT/education projects can help meet other developmental objectives as well.

(4) While innovating on the price of the device is important, innovating on the price of connectivty may be just as important

Back in the 1990s, tech industry pioneer John Gage famously proclaimed that 'the network is the computer'. As devices become more and more inter-connected, this is becoming more and more true. That said, as more and more content, services and tools move 'into the cloud', Internet connectivity in most developing country contexts, and especially for the education sector, remains very expensive. Beyond the headline-grabbing price of the Aakash device (which is government-subsidized and which is a topic of much heated debated on other blogs, so I won't go into it here), DataWind's focus on driving down the cost of connectivity through compressing data on their servers before sending it on to users is to me the most intriguing or innovative aspect of its proposed business plan. Much recent press attention has been paid to services that speed up download times in markets like the United States (the onLive videogaming service and the Silk browser on the Amazon Kindle Fire are two notable examples), but this theme has received less attention in developing country markets, where both absolute and relative costs for Internet conenctivity are often much higher than they in wealthier, industrialized countries. In an increasingly connected world, low cost devices are not really low cost if they require the use of expensive bandwidth to be function as intended.

posted by infini at 8:03 AM on January 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

developed by ITT and Datawind, IIT - that's a critical difference, both with respect to its IP wrt Indian govt and the credibility of its tech
posted by infini at 8:04 AM on January 2, 2012

Yeah for the little guy! Sometimes the larger corporations can not move as quickly (2 weeks) thus giving a smaller, more nimble company a chance to compete.

I wonder it they would offer an upgrade version with the more sensitive touch screen?
posted by JujuB at 8:05 AM on January 2, 2012

oh yes - I meant the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) - I think I have misnamed it in my head for years as ITT, because it scans better in English, but even someone as ignorant as me has heard of IIT. Is there an ITT? (I'll ask a moderator to correct the FFP).
posted by jb at 8:13 AM on January 2, 2012

Finally, an iPad killer!
posted by cjorgensen at 8:14 AM on January 2, 2012

Archived video is badly buffering .wmv but Tuli's presentation starts around the 4 min mark
posted by infini at 8:17 AM on January 2, 2012

posted by cortex (staff) at 8:19 AM on January 2, 2012

Out of curiosity, what's the usual markup on a tablet?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:20 AM on January 2, 2012

Dude's presso starts at 7mins and as I'm listening to him speak, encourage anyone intersted in compression tech and bandwidth rates to listen to this man
posted by infini at 8:27 AM on January 2, 2012

Datawind Ubislate sounds like a minor character from one of the Star Wars prequels.
posted by chavenet at 8:28 AM on January 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

I don't get it. It says Montreal but if you go to their site there is nothing at all about a Montreal office. No careers section and just a Toronto office. If a third of their employees work in Montreal I'm not sure why they're keeping it a secret
posted by Napierzaza at 8:30 AM on January 2, 2012

He says in the video that their a UK based firm with R&D in Montreal among other places.
posted by infini at 8:31 AM on January 2, 2012

everything in Montreal is a secret - first time I went, I didn't know anyone local and came away convinced that Montreal was a grey city with no nightlife. I was wrong - it was all just hiding.
posted by jb at 8:36 AM on January 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

A smart cover for an iPad is $40.00. It's hard to argue that this is not good value and it's exciting to see that it will be available globally.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 9:08 AM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

It looks like average gross income in India is US1400. $60 is about half-a-month's income for the average Indian ... not to mention the 37% in poverty.

It'd be great if this is going to be targeted at have-nots. Else they're just getting screwed again.
posted by Twang at 9:19 AM on January 2, 2012

everything in Montreal is a secret

After spending my first few hours in Montreal walking around downtown, I got thirsty and suddenly realized that I had walked several miles without encountering a single convenience store. That's when I noticed the staircases leading down and realized that any business that might want walk-in business in the winter was underground.
posted by localroger at 9:20 AM on January 2, 2012

It looks like average gross income in India is US1400. $60 is about half-a-month's income for the average Indian ... not to mention the 37% in poverty.

It'd be great if this is going to be targeted at have-nots. Else they're just getting screwed again.

In October, India hit 866 million mobile phone users, back in the day, people didn't think they could be affordable or even used by a 'have not'. The guy's presentation on this frames it well - they are basing it on a successful low cost revenue model they've already used in the UK and I think I'd better leave this thread now for a while...
posted by infini at 9:29 AM on January 2, 2012

I meant the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)

Technically, there isn't "the" IIT. There are sixteen (originally seven) and each campus is autonomous. The one in question is IIT Rajasthan. My impression is that to an Indian the term "IIT" is generic, more of a corollary to the way we use "liberal arts college", than denotative of a single monolithic institution like MIT or Stanford.

It's hard to argue that this is not good value and it's exciting to see that it will be available globally.

I'll remain skeptical until it actually hits the street. Its predecessors have not lived up to promises and are rapidly getting squeezed by commercial scaling and price competition.
posted by dhartung at 9:30 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

At $60, I'll buy one. At ten times as much, I can't justify an iPad.

Regarding the proprietary store, will this device be able to be "jailbroken" so you can get apps where you like?
posted by maxwelton at 9:30 AM on January 2, 2012

My impression is that to an Indian the term "IIT" is generic, more of a corollary to the way we use "liberal arts college", than denotative of a single monolithic institution like MIT or Stanford.

Somewhere in between. *The* IITs have increased in number but have a Joint Entrance Examination that still the toughest thing to crack, then there's everything else after.
posted by infini at 9:33 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think they'll need an Angry Birds Lite for these.
posted by benzenedream at 9:55 AM on January 2, 2012

The reviews are interesting. It looks like it might actually be a usable device, unlike previous lowest-end tablets. I think it says a lot of positive things about these developers, and a lot of negative things about the developers who made the previous ultracheap tablets (which were probably never intended to be actually used, just sold to people who didn't know better and to later be thrown away).

That being said, I think anyone who can afford something better should probably get it - if for no other reason than to get a capacitive touchscreen. Resistive touchscreens suck, and I suspect these tablets will be used as cheap desktop substitutes most of the time, with keyboards attached. That's fine for the intended market, but not what people who already own a regular computer would want a tablet for.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:59 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sweet! Just fyi, Android has by-far the best cryptography software among phone/tablet OSs too.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:00 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there anyone who has done this with an e-ink reader?

Surely e-ink could provide the most important part of the system, just very cheap copies of text books for kids.

Given even in the developed world textbooks are an odd rip off economy it would seem a ripe target.

A decent tablet in the West costs about $200 - The Kindle Fire, while a decent e-ink reader, the Kindle, goes for $100.

Given that a cheap, good, subsidized e-ink reader should be possible for $50 or less.
posted by sien at 2:10 PM on January 2, 2012

Astak EZ Readers (Jinke Hanlin) runs around $50 online, slen, which makes me feel silly for buying one form Fry's for $90 six months ago. I'd argue the Hanlin beats the Kindle, Nook, etc.1 because afaik it's the only eInk reader that ships with native support for all the ebook formats you'll actually encounter, especially DjVu.2 I donno if you could avoid any licensing fees by using the Open Ink Pot software.

1 I'm afraid the Hanlin's ergonomics are kinda poor with (a) both page flip buttons on the right hand side, and (b) the highest zoom mode oriented right, thus reversing the button's sense.   2 Ignoring fiction, my ebook collection runs about 70% .pdf, 20% .djvu, 5% .chm, and maybe 5% other, mostly documentation in .html, .txt, etc., i.e. you want djvu support if your using the reader for anything besides fiction.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:10 PM on January 2, 2012

Seconding the question for "jailbreaking" (although it'd be better if the company just acknowledged that of course I can install any software I want on a computer I own).

Also seconding the desperate need for open e-Ink devices.
posted by DU at 6:26 PM on January 2, 2012

Wait, I've never heard of this "Astak EZ Reader". They don't seem to be available anymore, unless you have a link that's in stock for single-item retail orders.
posted by DU at 6:33 PM on January 2, 2012

Implying an iAnything costs more than $50 to make.
posted by clarknova at 8:35 PM on January 2, 2012

As a rule, the hardware list always favored the various Jinke Hanlin incarnations, which various companies resell under various names, think supermarket brand cornflakes.

I claimed the $50 price based upon this google search pointing towards, maybe they're dumping inventory on that old model though, not selling new units that cheap.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:42 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The company's closed store model is what they believe will allow them to offer free connectivity. It may be teh trade off made between affordable access and advertising etc. They said there's no point aiming this product at the market that's already buying iPads for their kids or spending 8000 dollars plus a year on fancy private school but every one else who'd want something like this. They're looking at enabling a content development platform because they acknowledge without relevant and appropriate content there's no future. That's them.

I've been in two minds about this - when I first heard about it, I was pretty cynical, as anyone whose watched the number of such announcements followed by damp squibs in the market would be but I'll be honest, even while acknowledging it was a pitch to the World Bank, listening to the CEO put his case together, while not completely changing my opinion, at least makes me feel that this initiative might succeed (at least somewhat, apparently they already had over 400,000 early bird signups for purchase in Oct)
posted by infini at 5:59 AM on January 3, 2012

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