NEW DELHI: India is unwrapping what has been dubbed the world’s cheapest Tablet computer, to be sold to students at the subsidised price of US$35 (RM105) to expand digital access in the Asian giant that lags peers such as China and Brazil in connectivity.
The government said the device, called Aakash, which means sky, will initially be available in a pilot run of 100,000 units before being rolled out to millions of students over the next few months.
“The Tablet shall help enhance the quality of learning of children,” Telecoms and Education Minister Kapil Sibal told reporters.
The device is being launched by the minister and DataWind, the small British-based company that developed it.
Two years in development, the Aakash is due to be assembled in India and may help the government’s goal of incorporating information technology in education, although critics were doubtful the device would live up to expectations.
India trails fellow BRIC nations Brazil, Russia and China in the drive to get its 1.2 billion population connected to technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones, a report by risk analysis firm Maplecroft said this year.
The number of Internet users grew 15-fold between 2000 and 2010, according to another recent report. Still, just 8% of Indians have access. That compares with nearly 40% in China.
Some 19 million people subscribe to mobile phones every month, making India the world’s fastest growing market, but most are from the wealthier segment of the population in towns.
Bharat Mehra, an expert on the use of communications technology for development, said the budget Tablet could be used to deliver distance learning in rural areas and among students.
“If they are able to deliver what they promised it will make a huge difference,” said Mehra, who teaches at the University of Tennessee.
The Aakash uses the Google Android operating system, but market watchers were sceptical the Indian-made device will have mass appeal.
Full specifications were not available pre-launch, but low-end devices often use resistive LCD displays rather than full touchscreens. Media reports said the device will connect via wireless broadband, unavailable in most areas.
“The thing with cheap Tablets is most of them turn out to be unusable,” said Rajat Agrawal, executive editor at technology reviewers BGR India. “They don’t have a very good touchscreen, and they are usually very slow.” — Reuters
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