The developer of the “Aakash” tablet — which costs US$35 in India — yesterday said it invited Taiwanese partners to join the project by setting up facilities in the country or offering components as it prepares to launch a second model next year.
The Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), the brains behind the so-called world’s cheapest tablet, said it looked forward to joining hands with Taiwanese partners as the Indian government undertakes an effort to distribute 200 million Aakash units to students across the country over the next three years.
“Companies could set up manufacturing plants here to assemble the tablets as we are helping the government to fulfill the goal,” said Sandeep Yadav, an IIT professor who co-hosts the Aakash project, via a teleconference organized by the Taipei Computer Association (TCA, 台北市電腦公會).
Ten to 20 percent of components in the first model, the Aakash 1 — which means “sky” in Hindi — are from Taiwanese firms and the IIT intends to expand collaboration with Taiwan for the Aakash 2.
The Aakash was developed under the initiative of India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development to create affordable tablets for students to bridge the digital divide.
It was launched in October and 8,000 units have been distributed so far at the subsidized price of US$35 per unit, according to Yadav.
The IIT has about 30 engineers working on the hardware and software for the tablet, while its partners would take care of the assembly, shipment and sales of the end products, he said.
The 7 inch Aakash 1 is 1.6cm thick and weighs 350g. It runs on the Android 2.2 operating system, has a data storage capacity of 256MB and supports Wi-Fi.
The IIT is expected to showcase the Aakash 2 in February. The upgraded version, which runs on a faster processor and supports an external modem for mobile connectivity, is expected to sell at US$50 apiece, Yadav said.
In TCA director-general Dennis Hu’s (胡天盛) view, the Indian government appears ambitious in selling 200 million Aakash units. However, the initiative offers Taiwanese firms a new perspective on the rising trend of “affordable engineering” in emerging markets.
In a trip to India last month, Hu paid a visit to the IIT’s Rajasthan campus and had a chance to play with the Aakash 1.
“The battery of the Aakash 1 only lasts for two hours at the max and it has overheating issues that cause the system to hang and users have to turn it on and off quite often,” he said.
Given the apparent ruggedness of the device, it stands a chance in emerging markets because there is a huge income gap in India and consumers would need something affordable and easy to use — instead of powerful, expensive gadgets, such as Apple Inc’s iPhone, he said.
Well-known for their ability to control production costs, Taiwanese contract manufacturers are capable of producing something as affordable as the Aakash and they should set their sights on possible demand from these markets, Hu added.
Keen on introducing “affordable engineering” to the masses, there is a movement on the international stage to create a “one laptop per child” (OLPC) initiative.
The US non-profit organization OLPC forecast in January 2006 that it would distribute at least 7 million laptops over the next few years to about 45 countries, with each one costing no more than US$100.