India's low-cost Aakash tablet (AP)
Following through on a promise made last year, India introduced an inexpensive tablet computer on Oct. 5, saying the device would deliver modern technology to the countryside to help lift villagers out of poverty.
The computer, called Aakash, or “sky” in Hindi, is the latest in a series of “world’s cheapest” innovations in India that include a 100,000-rupee ($2,040) compact Nano car, a 750-rupee ($15) water purifier, and $2,000 open-heart surgery.
Developer Datawind is selling the tablets to the government for about $45 each, and subsidies will reduce that cost to $35 for students and teachers. In comparison, the cheapest Apple iPad tablet costs $499, while the recently announced Kindle Fire will sell for $199.
Datawind says it can make about 100,000 units a month at the moment, not nearly enough to meet India’s hope of getting its 220 million children online.
Still, Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal called the announcement a message to all children of the world.
“This is not just for us. This is for all of you who are disempowered,” he said. “This is for all those who live on the fringes of society.”
Despite a burgeoning tech industry and decades of robust economic growth, there are still hundreds of thousands of Indians with no electricity, let alone access to computers and information that could help farmers improve yields, business startups reach clients, or students qualify for university.
The product’s launch—attended by hundreds of students, some selected to help train others across the country in the tablet’s use—followed five years of efforts to design a $10 computer that could bridge the country’s vast digital divide.