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The Aakash is back, and shines in sneak peeks

gadgets Updated: Sep 20, 2012 01:10 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The world’s cheapest tablet has finally come together as planned, perhaps even better. And priced at $35 (about Rs 1,960) , Aakash 2 appears ready to start a revolution. Wait for it.

Aakash 2 is likely to be launched early October, close to the first anniversary of its predecessor, but some US tech experts got a sneak peek. Needless to say, they loved it.

“I want this device,” wrote Christopher Peri, the highly influential writer for Venture Beat, a leading technology blog, in a review of Aakash 2 on Tuesday.

"World changing indeed," is how Forbes magazine’s technology contributor Alice Truong ended review of the device.

Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of DataWind, which makes Aakash 2, is thrilled with the reviews, especially after the pasting he got for the Aakash 1, which was panned as too slow, with too many rough edges: far from the dream device India was waiting for. Only 8,000 of the originally contracted 100,000 units shipped.

Tuli said he didn't want or arrange these pre-launch reviews. That was done by Vivek Wadhwa, an Indian American technology entrepreneur and academic.

“Vivek jumped the gun,” Tuli said in a telephone interview.

Wadhwa had become an instant fan of the device the time he first tried it. “It has the potential of revolutionising India,” he gushed, “putting millions of Indians on the Net instantly.”

But he also feared for the future of Aakash 2. “Indians have an inferiority complex about their ability to produce anything of this standard and they would have finished off the device by rubbishing it,” he said.

So his strategy of getting it tested by leading experts in the US. If the reviews were good, Indian reviewers and critics would look silly going the other way.

The reviews have been outstanding so far. And Wadhwa might have indeed saved the device from a premature demise. For now, the real challenge lies ahead.

The WiFi-only version will cost the government $41, and will be sold to students at a subsidised $35.

A version with a SIM slot, called UbiSlate, will be available commercially for around $63. DataWind has already been able to line up 3.5 million bookings.

Aakash 2 was built in close technological cooperation with IIT Bombay - “really sharp people,” said Tuli - while Aakash 1 was made with IIT Rajasthan.

The current order-book is 100,000 units. Eventually, the government plans to buy 5 million units, which could drive prices down to sub-$20 levels, Tuli said.

“The world of cheap tablets is not coming, it’s here,” wrote Peri.

“Now we just need to sit back and watch the world change again — just as it did when cheap smartphones hit the market,” Peri added.