DataWind's $35 tablet project hits trouble

February 23, 2012 // 12:02 p.m.

Tags: #aakash #datawind #education #india #mobile-computing #tablet #university

The dream of the $35 tablet looks to be disappearing in the harsh morning light, as the UK company chosen to develop the device by the Indian government is given the cold shoulder.

DataWind's Aakash tablet was an amazing achievement, there's no doubt about that. At a time when Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project was still chasing the $100 laptop, the Aakash was put together for a bill of materials totalling $50 (around £32.) With subsidies from the Indian government for which it was created, that meant students would have access to a touch-screen tablet for educational use for just $35 (around £22.)

Reports of troubles surrounding the project suggest that all is not well, however, with the government claiming DataWind's design is sub-par while DataWind accuses the government of changing the requirements half-way through the first phase of the project.

According to an unnamed source at the Indian government's Human Resource Development Ministry speaking to MSN, the project will be pulled from DataWind and put out to tender. 'It's not automatic that because you have done phase one you will do phase two,' the official reportedly stated. 'The feeling is that sufficient interest has been generated to get better specifications at the same or a lower price.'

The government claims that specifications are at the heart of the problem. While it was aware that the Aakash was being built on a tight budget, the resultant device is far from what it was promised. An unresponsive resistive touch-screen coupled with a distinctly under-powered processor mean a poor user experience, even for a device retailing for less than the cost of the average university textbook in the UK.

DataWind denies these claims. According to chief executive Suneet Singh, the real problem comes from a last-minute decision to change the requirements from the device. As well as a budget-friendly bill of materials, DataWind was suddenly required to make the device conform to US IPX durability specifications.

With those specifications requiring that the tablet be able to withstand four inches an hour of sustained rainfall, it was never going to happen without some serious redesigning and a significant increase in cost.

Despite the setback, DataWind is forging ahead with its own version of the Aakash tablet. Due to launch later this month for 2,999Rs (around £39,) the commercial tablet includes an in-built GPRS modem to provide internet connectivity in areas where fixed-line networking is still extremely rare.
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