The India-bound Aakash tablet made waves in the technology media for its dream of providing cheap tablets to the educational sector (among others) in this developing market. The tablet also drew flak for its creator's inability to adequately meet demand. But will the cheap tablet trend catch on with the rest of the world?
Never mind the poor specifications of the original 2011 device, which featureda mere 366 MHz CPU and a resistive screen. Whatever criticisms against it, including the lackluster specifications, low camera quality, small onscreen keyboard and build quality, can all be answered with “Yeah, but … it's only $40,” as NY Times columnist Quentin Hardy writes.
Since then, Datawind has released updated tablets, the latest being the Ubislate 7 series, which comes with upgraded specs, while still retaining low prices.
Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli says that those who have expressed criticism against the tablet's low-end specs are not their market, anyway. “The biggest problem we have with this device is that none of the decision makers, the reviewers, or the trend setters are our customer.” He is confident that their latest Ubislate 7Ci tablet can be relevant among its target market, especially given its price. “Personal computers caught on in the U.S. when the price got to about 25 percent of the average person’s monthly income. In India, where people make $200 a month, that is about $50.”
Datawind produces the 7Ci tablets for $37 apiece, and then sells these to the Indian government for $40. There is hope that other markets can also enjoy inexpensive or even free tablets, but these are likely to be subsidized by advertisements. For instance, the Google Nexus 7 is already considered cheap its for $199 entry level price in the U.S. However, this can still be brought down to $49 in two years' time, says an analyst from Gartner.
But are cheap tablets the way to go for emerging markets? With emerging trends like cloud computing, it seems so. Cheap access to mobile Internet does away with the need to have super-fast processing capabilities and paid software suites. For as long as a tablet can do what's expected — email, web browsing, social networking, e-book reading, and the occasional game — it seems users can overlook poor specs and build for as long as the user experience is good enough.
Still, the basic problem of Datawind is supply. The brand is already being criticized for delayed orders which can run into multiple months. In their defense, though, Datawind has even supplied its buyers with upgraded models at no extra cost. Datawind still does not have mass-production capabilities that can equal the likes of the makers of the iPad and the Nexus 7.
Once they do improve their mass-manufacturing capabilities, then products like these have the potential to be really game-changing, especially in giving mobile computing access to folks who could otherwise not afford a more expensive device. Until then, we do have an inexpensive tablet that does work as intended, but not everyone can get their hands on this $40 gem due to supply constraints.