Society

India Announces $35 Tablet Computer to Help Poor People

| by Michael Allen

The government of India announced that it is buying computer tablets from a company called Datawind for about $45 each and selling the gadget for $35 to students and teachers. Govenrment officals hope that this modern technology will help lift countryside villagers out of poverty.

The computer, called Aakash, is the latest in a series of innovations in India that include a $2,040 compact Nano car, $15 water purifier and $2,000 open-heart surgery.

Computer-maker Datawind says it can build about 100,000 Aakash tablets a month at the moment, which is not nearly enough to meet India’s hope of getting its 220 million children online.

However, Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal called the announcement a message to all children of the world: “This is not just for us. This is for all of you who are disempowered. This is for all those who live on the fringes of society.”

Despite a high number of billionaires, a strong tech industry and decades of robust economic growth in India, there are still hundreds of thousands of Indians with no electricity, let alone access to computers and information.

The launch of the Aakash, attended by hundreds of students, followed five years of efforts to design a $10 computer that could bridge the country’s vast digital divide.

“People laughed, people called us lunatics,” ministry official N.K. Sinha said. “They said we are taking the nation for a ride.”

Although the $10 goal wasn’t achieved, the Aakash has a color screen and provides word processing, Web browsing and video conferencing. The Android 2.2-based device has two USB ports and 256 megabytes of RAM.

Both Sibal and Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli called for competition to improve the product and drive prices down further.

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“The intent is to start a price war. Let it start,” Tuli said, inviting others to do the job better and break technological ground. As for the $10 goal, he added:“Let’s dream and go in that direction. Let’s start with that target and see what happens."