India’s Tablet – a Bitter Pill To Swallow?

Posted on July 30, 2010 in Sci- Tech

By Prateek Waghre:

Last Friday, Kapil Sibal proudly unveiled the $35 tablet. The media went berserk. Indian innovation was hailed. “It would change the face of education”, “breakthrough in low cost computing”. That’s great.  With no disrespect to Mr.Sibal, history teaches us that whenever politicians are involved — expect (some) hyperbole. And thus began the search to find the proverbial pinch of salt with this good news. The result : Venom.

It is natural for any good news to be met  with scepticism, and while the Indian media was going gaga over the tablet, some commentators found the news a little bitter. The same could also be said of their reaction. Though the reasons varied, the tone was consistent. It is said that it’s always great to get an outsider’s perspective. In this case, the nationalist inside didn’t like what he saw.

Here are some of the reasons :

The Economists

India does not manufacture the touch screens or the type of solar panels needed for this device. These will have to be sourced from either China or Taiwan. Some suggest the cost of this exercise alone would exceed the $35 price target. The cost of the 2GB of RAM and all the remaining electronics built with even the cheapest available components are likely to send the cost of the device beyond $100.

The Chinese specialize in manufacturing low cost devices and it is unlikely that India will be able to compete with them once the operation is scaled. The much fabled $100 MIT Laptop a.k.a One Laptop Per Child(OLTP) is also struggling to achieve it’s target price. They are currently around the $200 mark. It is important to note that this is a non-touch device.

The good old fashioned sceptics

Others have cited India’s inability to make good on such promises in the past. The Simputer, announced in 1999, was a hand-held Linux based tablet. While the government had ambitious plans of selling around 50,000, only close to 4,000 were actually sold. Sakshat has also not been able to evade the ‘doubting thomas’es. Announced in Feb 2009, as a device would cost $10-$20 and be released in 6 months. Almost 18 months later, this device is still to see the light of the marketplace.

They also expect that by the time India actually manufactures the device for 35$, China will be able to do the same at a reasonable lower cost.

The “Curry Bashers”

The flavour of the day seems to be “curry bashing” and this post by FastCompany was initially published with an offensive and derogatory attempt at humour, that has since been removed. The comments section on several such posts have some distasteful remarks which I suspect are part of a larger social stigma – a growing animosity towards Indians – instead of being relevant to the issue.

Even though it seems like production cost comparisons have been made against expensive Apple and Amazon products, the first set of doubters do raise some valid questions. Which we probably should have raised ourselves, or did we buy into the hype? Is this all an exercise to win some brownie points with the public? All things considered, is the only way to achieve the price target – a much higher than expected government subsidy?

Summed up rather well on PKR’s blog.

Hype or the real deal?

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz. He is also a blogger @ WATBlog.com and AllThingsSensible.co.cc

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