Should this R480 tablet worry the iPad?

By Sipho Hlongwane 6 October 2011

Never mind the Amazon Kindle Fire. Could this ridiculously cheap tablet made in India gain enough popular traction to bury the iPad in a heap of electronic dust? The idea suggests that it could – but there’s one problem. It’s very cheap. Which means it’s probably crap. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

We’re being facetious, of course. There’s no way that the Aakash tablet can compete with the iPad, both from a technical and revenue perspective.

The Amazon Kindle Fire, which was launched with great fanfare (and 95,000 pre-orders on the first days) as the next iPad killer, because it retails at half the price of the iPad 2. And while it isn’t as powerful or as pretty as the tablet of Jobs, it is still a workable little thing, we’re told.

The Aakash has no such pretensions.

Launched on Wednesday by the Indian government and DataWind, a British firm that developed it, the device will be sold to students. There are two versions: a $35 (R280) version with a cellular modem, and a $60 (R480) version which comes with the cellular modem and a SIM slot. Both tablets run on an Android operating system, Wi-Fi connectivity and “cloud storage”. The tablets will have 256Mb of RAM, a 32Gb expandable memory slot and two USB ports. By comparison, the cheapest iPad 2 has a 1.08GHz dual-core processor, 512Mb of RAM and 16Gb of storage.

The product is heavily subsidised by the Indian government. In fact, it is sold to the government, who then sell it on to students at subsidised prices. The plan is to eventually sell it commercially.
“The commercial version of the tablet would have no duty waivers or subsidy, as in the government’s version,” the Economic Times of India said. “An inbuilt cellular modem and SIM card will add to the price of the commercial tablet. The commercial version of the tablet, is expected be out within 60 days, of its launch on October 5.”

India’s Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Siba was at the launch, smiling and holding the device aloft like a heavyweight boxer’s championship belt. “This is not just for us,” he said. “This is for all of you who are disempowered,” he said. “This is for all those who live on the fringes of society.” He neglected to explain how India’s poor – many of whom have no 3G coverage or access to Wi-Fi and thus broadband internet – would benefit.

Just 8% of India’s 1.2 billion citizens have internet access. Some 19 million people get mobile phone subscriptions every month.

Suneet Singh Tuli, the CEO of DataWind, said he hoped his company would have a customer base of about one million customers for the commercial version.  He expressed confidence that the product would sell outside of India. “Our basic plan is to provide the ‘tab’ to the Indian market first, but the demand is so high that we need to develop a new facility altogether and we are scouting for a location,” he said.

The tablet reportedly has a rudimentary touch screen, which hints to what may be its Achilles heel, perhaps even more than India’s poor internet connectivity.

If the device is too slow, too cumbersome and too difficult to use, it will not sell in the outrageous numbers sought by DataWind. “The thing with cheap tablets is most of them turn out to be unusable,” executive editor at technology reviewers BGR India Rajat Agrawal said to Reuters. “They don’t have a very good touch screen, and they are usually very slow.”

Still, someone had to go first. Tablets were always going to become cheaper, and the first efforts were never going to be brilliant. DM

Read more:

  • Aakash: world’s cheapest tablet launched; to be sold in retail for $60 in India Today;
  • India to launch world’s cheapest tablet computer for $35 in Reuters;
  • India to launch cheapest-ever tablet for Rs 1700 in Hindustan Times.



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