DELHI -- Even as doubt and criticism rain down, Suneet Singh Tuli, maker of the cheapest tablet in the world, is confident that his product will not only take India by storm, but it will also sell in the U.S.
Tuli is the CEO of Datawind, the Montreal-based company, which recently launched the Android-powered Aakash tablet. The Indian government is subsidizing the device for students who can buy it for $35. It costs approximately $47 in the commercial market and an upgraded version will be available for $57.
In principle, creators of this technology envision reaching millions of people, in developing and developed countries, who cannot afford high-end devices. SmartPlanet asked Tuli whether Aakash could compete with the iPad in the U.S. "Yes we expect to sell in the U.S. markets, but the product will be positioned in the U.S. market also as a solution for the digital-divide, not as a competitor to the iPad," he replied.
Tuli noted that according to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, 93 million Americans don't regularly use the internet. In its 2010 report, the FCC indeed found that one-third of the U.S. did not have internet at home because of cost and lack of digital skills. The report found that 28 million adults in the U.S. said they did not have broadband because the monthly fee of $41 is too expensive or they could not afford a computer because the installation fee is too high.
But experts say that for Aakash to bridge the digital-divide, it has to prove its utility. Low-cost devices, like the $100 laptop from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) mission, have not cracked the market in a big way yet. OLPC also launched a new low-cost tablet, which runs on solar energy, at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
As pondered earlier the jury is still out on whether Aakash will flop or usher in a tech-revolution. Its first model was an Android 2.2 powered, 7-inch touch screen tablet that ran on a 366 Mhz processor, with 256 MB of memory and a 2 GB Micro SD card, and offers WiFi access. After scores of complaints, Datawind set about improving this. Problems include poor battery life, a slow processor, an unresponsive screen, poor apps selection and bad support services for flustered customers.
Datawind and its partner, the Indian Institute of Technology-Rajasthan, are also bickering over its specifications and testing standards. Adding fat to fire, the Indian media recently reported that the government was going to put on holds its remaining 70,000 tablet order until the tablet is fixed.
The upgraded Aakash, which is available for an extra $10, is expected to be better. This Android 2.3 powered tablet has a 700 Mhz processor, a 3200 mAh battery, WiFi and a SIM card slot for GPRS connectivity.
While Datawind plugs the holes, Tuli isn't too hassled by the bad press. "To imply that product enhancements represent a failure of the initial product is not correct – technology products continuously go through enhancements, and we’ve committed to introducing two new-generations annually," he said.
Those who support the product say that it is adequate for its super-low cost, but remain concerned about the slow pace of manufacturing. The order for Aakash and Aakash+ has exceeded two million, according to Datawind. Tuli said the "negative rumor mongering" had not impacted commercial orders yet.
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