India to Give Up on $35 tablet?

Aakash 3It had to come to this! The Indian Government is giving up on the $35 tablet project, according to a new report. After all the chest thumping and grand standing, the government now wants to play down the importance of hardware and focus on the software: read Android and bundled applications.

The new human resource development (HRD) minister Mr Pallam Raju told reporters in New Delhi that the Government isn’t going to “obsess about the hardware” and focus on how to enable students, reports Livemint.

“Let’s not get obsessed with hardware. The overall (issue) is how we enable students,” Raju said . “Let the students decide which device is useful,” said the report. It was India’s previous Human Resources Development minister Kapil Sibal’s idea to make these tablets in massive numbers and give it away for a pittance.

The report also cites Higher Education secretary Ashok Thakur as saying: “The idea was, once we receive the 100,000 Aakash 2 (revised version of the tablet), we will be more confident to proceed further. On the last review, we have a lot of gap. Also technology is not a stagnant thing.”

The new meh-we-dont-care-for-hardware attitude does not come as a surprise though. The $35 tablet project has had a terrible time getting off the ground and when it finally did hardware costs had come down so much that it wasn’t a big deal anymore.e

The Backstory

The Aakash project has had stumbling blocks right from the very start. The project began when Kapil Sibal announced an anticipated low-cost computing device to compete with the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative, though intended for urban college students rather than the OLPC’s rural, underprivileged students.

But six months after the Ministry of Human Resource Development launched the Aakash tablet, only 10,000 units were shipped in contrast to the claimed order of 4 million. Various technical problems were faced by those who used the tablet. There was a huge debate as to whether these tablets met the initial laid out specifications, and work was started on an updated design, the Aakash 2. The Aakash 2 was also launched by DataWind, which built the initial Aakash.

DataWind has had trouble meeting deadlines and demand.

When Aakash 2 was launched by President Pranab Mukherjee on the occasion of National Education Day, last year, everyone thought the problems were behind them. The tablets ran on 1 GHz Cortex A8 processors with 512 MB RAM and 4 GB of internal memory.

However, a new controversy broke out when reports said that the Indian government was trying to pass off these tablets as “Indian Innovation” while Datawind had simply imported the tablets from China and sold it to the government.

The day these tablets were announced by the President, DataWind began taking online orders for the commercial versions of the tablet UbiSlate7C1 at Rs 3,499 and the Ubislate7C+ at Rs 4,499. The Aakash version of the tablet was expected to cost the government Rs 2,263 with the government subsidizing it for students at Rs 1,130. Though DataWind has begun shipping the pre-orders of the commercial versions, a lot of customers still complain that they have not received their orders.

DataWind was supposed to develop the tablet with the Indian Institute of Technology, but was met by stiff demands from the institution with regards to the specifications of the project. This further delayed the project.

Earlier this year, it was reported that the government planned to develop an app ecosystem for the Aakash tablets.

Recommended Read: Dear Mr Tuli, we’d be grateful if you could start shipping: An open letter to Datawind CEO

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