India struggles with bitter taste of “Aakash” tablet

Posted on January 1, 2013  /  0 Comments

Making affordable communication devices for the BOP is not a high school project. It requires strong backing from every stakeholder of the industry. GSMA’s Emerging Market Handsets (EMH) was intended to make the mobile handsets at or below $30 level. Motorola won the GSMA’s deal. My study on Stolen Handsets has captured the semiconductor industry’s involvement in scaling down the handset prices.

Today’s sub-twenty dollars feature-phones, loaded with lots of features, are the outcome of GSMA’s EMH initiative. And it’s the market forces, not the governments, did this miracle. The Indian government has, however, thought otherwise. Spectrum Magazine of IEEE wrote:

Inspired by the One Laptop Per Child project, in 2006 the Indian government opened bids for ultracheap computers to the premier technical institutes across India. Kalra, then teaching at IIT Kanpur, won the competition.

Kalra moved the project to Jodhpur in 2009 when he assumed the post of director of the new IIT there, and he continued to lead a small team to develop the tablet. Based on Kalra’s plans, in early 2011 the Indian government contracted with DataWind to manufacture the tablet.

This noble initiative of the Indian government is, however, yet to deliver. The New York Times has diagnosed:

The government’s specifications were challenging, and none of India’s information technology giants, like HCL or Wipro, competed for the contract. DataWind made the lowest bid, promising to supply the tablets for 2,276 rupees, including delivery — about $50 at exchange rates at the time, and about $40 now.

OLPC has failed and OTPC remains in the drawing table. The Indian government gets inspired by Negroponte. Good luck to both of them.

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