Zoe Fox | Mashable | 29 November 2012
The Aakash2, the second generation of the monumental, ultra-cheap tablet from Indian manufacturer DataWind, arrived in the U.S. Wednesday, with a welcome at the U.N. Headquarters in New York.
DataWind is hoping to prove to the tech and development communities that the $40 Aakash2 is faster than its predecessor, the original Aakash, which was much-criticized for its glacial processor.
You may be wondering what exactly you can put in a tablet that sells for just $40.41. The 7-inch Android-powered device has 512 MB of RAM, a 1 Ghz processor, 4 GB of flash memory, a multi-touch capacitative screen, front-facing camera, an internal microphone and speakers. The Aakash2 includes a USB hub, an adapter cable, a wall charger and a 12-month warranty.
Sunseet Singh Tuli, DataWind’s CEO and the visionary behind the tablet, points out that Aakash2 wasn’t conceived for the same demographic as the iPad. It’s developed out of the requisite “frugal innovation” that guides India and the developing world.
“Frugal innovation isn’t about creating an iPad killer, it’s about creating an iPad for him,” said Tuli, pointing to a presentation slide of a lower-class man who’s primary motivation is to receive an education. “This is not a straight commerce effort — it’s an educational effort.”
Even the tablet’s name — Aakash, which means sky in Hindi — references that it was created to awaken students’ potential. The government of India has committed to subsidize 50% of the cost of the device for students, making it available for roughly $20.
According to DataWind, the technological breakthrough of the Aakash2, which is why the device can be made so inexpensively, is twofold. First, much of its memory and processing power is transfered to backend servers. Second, the parallel processing environment speeds the user experience in remote areas and congested networks.
The Aakash2 also eliminates hardware features deemed unnecessary for the target audience, such as bluetooth and the HDMI interface. It uses open source software to cut costs, as well.
“This tablet seeks to empower the world’s neediest and bridges the digital divide within our society,” said Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s permanent representative to the U.N. at the launch event. “To us, Aakash2 is the epitome of such high end innovation and excellence.”
The Aakash to was designed and developed in Canada, though it was conceived, assembled and programmed in India. DataWind and the Indian government have received criticism because the process is not entirely domestic, though both said they are committed to moving more of the production process to India when cost allows.
The Indian government has committed to equipping all 220 million students in the country with low-cost computing devices and Internet access over the next five years. To put that number in perspective, just 250,000 tablets were sold in India in 2011. It will cost $1.6 billion per year at the rate of equipping 40 million students for each of the next five years. The national government has committed to covering half the cost — $800 million per year — and will count on state governments and institutions to cover the remaining 50% of costs. Though it sounds like a daunting figure, $800 million is only 5% of India’s annual education budget.
“More and more schools in some of the most impoverished areas are using technology, text messaging and mobile applications to enhance the quality of education and open new doors,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday. “Our challenge is to leverage the power of technology and bridge the digital divide.”
During Wednesday’s event at the U.N., Tuli presented Ki-moon with an Aakash2 tablet for each of the U.N. ambassadors.
Not surprisingly, other countries throughout the developing world have noticed the Aakash tablet’s potential. Thailand, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Brazil and Panama have all expressed interest in bringing the low-cost tablet to their students.
“The next arms race is to equip our children with knowledge and information,” Tuli said.
If you’re wondering when you can get your hands on an Aakash2 in the U.S., DataWind plans to begin selling the device in the U.S. in early 2013.
Do you think this low-cost tablet has the power to bridge the digital divide and combat illiteracy? Let us know in the comments.