The world’s cheapest tablet computer was launched in India on Wednesday with 500 school students becoming the first few recipients. Telecoms and human resource development minister Kapil Sibal launched the tablet – Aakash – priced at $35 or Rs 1,750 for students pursuing graduation and said that the government aimed to increase production to bring down the cost of the tablet to less than $10 or Rs 500.
The government is sourcing the tablet from UK-based Datawind at Rs 2,256 – inclusive of all taxes, levies, freight and insurance charges, servicing and documentation. The first lot of 100,000 tablets will be provided to states at Rs 1,750 per tablet. The government wants to bring down this cost to less than Rs 500.
“Our ultimate aim is that in the coming years this tablet should cost less than $10. Datawind has offered that if an order of 1 million units is placed the cost of the tablet (to the government) would be Rs 1750 ($35), in which the government will offer 50% subsidy (while giving it to students),” Sibal said.
He added that private sector was also interested in providing subsidy to help the government achieve the sub-$10 cost for the tablet.
Aakash is the first government initiative in the crowded tablet market in India, with more than a dozen Indian and multinational tablet makers vying for a share of the 3 lakh units a year market. The world’s cheapest tablet comes is launched in India at a time when Apple’s iPad holds more than half the market, followed by Samsung’s Galaxy that has cornered roughly a quarter and the rest of the turf occupied by the low-cost manufacturers.
The $35 tablet is Wi-Fi enabled with a 7-inch touch screen and is based on Google’s Andorid 2.2 operating system. It has an internal storage capacity of 2GB which can be increased to 32 GB with an SD card, a battery back up of nearly three hours and two USB ports. Internet access can be with the help of separate data cards, or WiFi.
Datawind, which makes the tablet in Hyderabad at 700 units a day, will begin selling the tablet commercially by end of November at Rs 2,999 with a year-long warranty and additional, under brand name of UbiSlate, the company’s chief executive officer Suneet Singh Tuli said. UbiSlate will come with an inbuilt 2G SIM for web access, with an internet plan at Rs 99 per month, from an Indian mobile operator, which Datawind is finalizing as of now.
The UbiSlate will be launched in 3-inch, 5-inch, 7-inch to 8-inch versions. “We’re hoping that the government in their roadmap will look not only at having a GPRS and a 3G modem in there, but also a a capacitive screen. We’ve submitted a proposal that at 3 million-units volume, we can give a GPRS module and a capacitive screen with a much higher end processor at $35. These are achievable numbers,” said Tuli.
Sibal added that the government would look at making the tablet with state-run telecoms equipment maker ITI to scale up production and reduce costs. “Our plan is to increase the manufacturing capacity of this tablet in collaboration with the ministry of information technology. ITI can manufacture this tablet on a large scale,” he said.
He added that the HRD ministry would try to make a scheme that Wi-Fi that may be rolled out across India in the next six months will allow connectivity with these devices and offer free content. More than 1,000 institutions across the country have been connected through high-speed Wi-Fi networks
Considered as his brainchild, Sibal unveiled a prototype of the tablet, made by IIT Rajasthan, in July last year and announced selling it at cost of around $35. However it’s launch was delayed several times, as vendors weren’t able to match the price.
Tuli says his market is 1 billion Indians, most of who will have their first internet experience on a mobile device. India has a dismal broadband penetration rate with 12.5 million subscribers and a large mobile subscriber base of more than 850 million subscribers. This provides an opportunity for tablet makers and mobile operators providing cheap internet usage plans and third-generation mobile services that offer high-speed web browsing and live-streaming on the go.