India’s cheapest tablet turns out to be an electronic brick

Aakash tablet, the cheapest tablet in the world, previously supposed to be an educational tool for millions of students, could soon be junked. Trust me that sentence wasn’t easy to write.

A game of ping pong going on between Datawind (the maker of the tablet) and the Indian government. Datawind  has delivered only 30000 tablets so far, pilot studies to which have found several usability issues and asked for the next set of 70000 tablets to be produced without these issues. The government claims that Datawind refused to do this and instead commercialised the products and put up its upgraded Ubislate, which I have criticized already, on retail sale.

Datawind claims that it is yet to receive the money for the first 30000 tablets supplied. Does this look like a cat fight to you? It certainly does to me. The only difference is cats are cute.

If Datawind’s version is true, then we have a country which was liberal enough to sacrifice $40 bn in a 2G spectrum scam and can’t pay up for 30000 tablets that cost Rs. 2500 each?

I have felt that something meaningful can be achieved with a 336 MHz processor that runs in the Aakash tablet if the programmers were a little more careful. In my earlier post, I wrote:

Aakash runs on a very slow processor and RAM by today’s standards. That means the latest software can’t run all that fast on Aakash. Now whose problem is that? Isn’t the software equally to blame? People seem to have forgotten the art of writing programs which can run on slow and older hardware.

There was a twitter discussion following that post and a few observers have weighed in that the government should butt out of making electronic products and let the private industry to take care of these. A foresight I lacked at that time. It’s not as if I haven’t been warned. Bala Murali Krishna had pointed 10 reasons why the Aakash tablet is destined for failure. All of them turned out to be just as true. One of the reasons :

Finally, even the Tamil Nadu government, which plans to hand out 6.8 million free laptops to poor school and college students in the state, is giving out computers with far superior specifications and features. It will be spending an estimated $1.5 billion, not a measly $5 million that the federal government is spending on the initial order of 100,000 tablets.

How could we forget what happened to all the cheap and sensational product announcements coming out of India? It is like déjà vu.

Remember the $10 computer to come out of India which later turned out to be an electronic brick? Well guess what, India has progressed! In the Aakash tablet, it now has a bigger brick. And that’s that. Or maybe not.

What good is a reality show without a third player and some drama? According to India Today, Mukesh Ambani’s RIL, which has the spectrum for 4G services, has hijacked the government’s idea for a cheap tablet and plans to team up with Datawind for a Rs. 3500 tablet. Now this irks me to no end.

How can you hijack an idea with a price difference of just Rs. 1000? And we are talking about the government for crying out loud. Anyway, what else is new? Talking of cheap tablets, OLPC has launched a XO 3.0 tablet. Long live OLPC.

This should not dominate the happier news coming out of the country : India had one full year without any reported polio case. A major milestone.

PS : I wonder why the game of ping pong didn’t originate from India? We seem to be playing it so well.