Indian Government Continues to Support the Low-Cost Aakash Tablet, Despite Problems
As previously reported on this blog, the Indian government is subsidizing a low-cost tablet, the Aakash, a device that could be game-changing innovation. The Aakash is a portable internet connected tablet computer, available to students at a subsidized price of around $30-35. The potential of such a device to change lives - starting with educators and their students in India - is huge.
First scheduled for release as a prototype in 2011, the roll-out of the Aakash has been bumpy... but the market for a device that (if it works) could replace textbooks and paper - while also offering access to a wealth of online motion pictures and interactive content - to students enrolled in India's massive educational system (e.g., over 25,000 colleges and 400 universities) at an affordable price, remains enticing.
Now comes word that a new version, the Aakash 2, is being tested - with the roll-out scheduled for sometime later in 2012.
While skeptics have complained about missed delivery dates and the disappointing performance of the original Aakash, the new Aakash version 2 will apparently offer some (minor?) improvements, like a more responsive touchscreen and faster processor.
The (more problematic) missed delivery dates for the Aakash apparently can be traced back to suppliers who were unable to meet quality and production goals. Reportedly, some supply contracts have been terminated - and new vendors lined-up.
While production issues have been upsetting and could eventually undermine confidence in the entire project, in hindsight, they were to be expected.
Building a small portable computer that will sell for what many people in the developed world pay for dinner was clearly a big challenge. And, even if the vendors can manufacture such a device, the Aakash will always be less desirable than its more expensive competitors.
Perhaps it's worth remembering that the people who have been the most vocal in their criticism of the features of the Aakash (e.g., it's slow speed and lack of up-to-dateness) are doing so from a position of privilege. As Lucian Armasu wrote in a Jan 30th, 2012 Android Authority blogpost about the Aakash and its promise for millions of Indian students: "Having access to the World Wide Web, being able to read free e-books, perhaps from Google Books or from school, and play some low-end games, ARE the killer apps of a tablet. This may be hard to believe for many of us who take these for granted now... [In a sense, it's] like having access to clean water."