Scratch that, of $22 Tablets and more. Insane as it may sound, this is what India has pulled off. For about what you would spend on a meal at a restaurant, you can now get a full fledged seven-inch screen, rubberised back, WiFi-enabled, Android-based tablet with a video processor that can play 1080P video. That, for those that are foreign exchange conversion challenged, comes to about R1,100. Yup, for the price of two books, for the price of a pair of jeans, for the price of 1/30th of an iPad – you can be the proud owner of an actual working Tablet. There’s a story to tell and as always I am getting ahead of myself.
It was about a year back that Mr Kapil Sibal sat down with us and made a startling announcement. He and his ministry would be able to develop, produce and supply a $35 Tablet to the education sector – that is colleges, schools and other institutes. Students would be able to see full HD video lessons, have all their course books in e-book format, browse the Net for information – as well as watch a few HD movies if time permitted. He held in his hands a device that looked like it was held together with band-aid and Fevicol, was fat and heavy and wasn’t able to do much. That was a prototype and we were quite forgiving as Mr Sibal had his heart in the right place even if the Tablet wasn’t.
The reaction was instantaneous. From Twitter to emails and from every person we met – we were ridiculed for falling for this grand plan of nothingness. Impossible, said everyone, that we could even think that a Tablet could be made for $35, just a screen costs more said most e-mailers, @rajivmakhni has lost it as he now has started believing in government propaganda said the Twitterati. And for a while it all seemed true. Months passed, no Tablet, no answers to our queries and no response to a follow-up story. It all seemed like a great idea on paper that was just not executable.
Then came the call that it was ready. The $35 Tablet was all set and it was even cheaper. And it wasn’t a prototype but a ready to ship device. Could I come across to take a look, as it was now only a few days away from launch? With great trepidation and hesitation I arrived at Shastri Bhavan. It wasn’t an auspicious start at all. The guards, despite advance notice and a VIP pass, weren’t happy to let me through, a walk from one gate to another to a third and finally a reception that made me fill in extraordinary details in a register and gave me another small piece of paper that finally allowed me entry. So far – so not good.
Then it all changed and how. Mr Sibal appeared, the Tablet was pulled out of a box, I hit the power button and lo and behold – it sprang to life. Lightweight, resistive screen, took a little time to boot, instantly connected to WiFi – it all worked well. We were watching a 1080P video clip in about two minutes. Here’s how this remarkable device has come about and what the gameplan is.
It’s made in India, it’s for the education sector, will first be given out to colleges, costs about $38 dollars to make, will be subsidised by the government to the tune of 50 per cent, colleges may issue them out to their students like library books (thus costing them nothing), it’s part of a grand plan to make education accessible and interesting to all, will have almost all courses in the form of videos available to play on it, each college will be outfitted with a high speed broadband connection, text and course books will eventually make it to the Tablet, special apps and services will come soon – and the government will easily manage to subsidise eight million of these in this financial year.
What we’ve pulled off in India has been the dream of every country for the last 10 years. A low-cost, mass-produced device that imparts education, services, information and entertainment to each and every student in the country. Each country has tried and each country has failed. And it seems that this one will not – and thus bring about an educational revolution. Move over Mr Negroponte – we have a new rock star.
Let me answer the other two burning questions. How good is it as a Tablet and can you get one for yourself? Well, as compared to the big guns and their Tablets, this is an average device. But for what they want it to do – it’s an exceptional device. And yes, it will come out in the retail market but with no subsidies – and you should be able to pick it up for about Rs 2,700.
Simultaneously, two other big things happened. Amazon’s Kindle Fire got announced and I got my hands on a Samsung Galaxy Note. Why is that significant? The Amazon Kindle Fire ($199) finally gets what the others haven’t till now. That an Android Tablet shouldn’t be competing on features but on price and content. On the other hand, the Note is the first true hybrid (it’s a phone and it’s a Tablet as it has a huge 5.3 inch screen, a mind-boggling resolution of 1280x800, super slim, slips easily into a pocket) that negates the need for a separate phone and a Tablet and may well be a sign of things to come.
The Tablet market is on fire. Its usage and diversity is startling, its price points and abilities are jaw dropping. The Tablet revolution has truly kicked off and will changes the rules of all we know. As Mr Sibal proclaimed – they’ll upgrade this Tablet soon to a capacitative touch-screen, double the battery life and add 3G capabilities, yet maintain the same price of Rs 1,100. Now, I believe him!
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni
From HT Brunch, October 9
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