28 September 2010

India’s $35 Tablet

India is showing off prototypes of a $35 touchscreen tablet which it hopes to sell to students in 2011. The tablet is Linux-based, and will have a word-processor, web-browsing, and video-conferencing. At an added cost, a solar-power option is available for people without access to electricity.
Kapil Sibal, the human resources development minister, says that “this is our answer to MIT’s $100 computer,” referring to the XO-1 from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. The cost is expected to go down to about $20, and then to $10.

This is obviously not a powerhouse computer, there is no hard drive (it uses a memory card instead), and the processor is likely not very fast, but with subsidies bringing the price down to $20, this is nonetheless an amazing feat.

Could this finally lead to companies selling products at a fair price, instead of paying for a label? Maybe not completely, but it might have an impact. As for the students that will be able to access the internet and actually own a computer (probably for the first time in their life), the effects will be monumental. When the average household in India makes $735 a year, a $100 laptop is still something of a luxury, and even a $35 device comes out to 1/21 of the family’s income. To put that in perspective, the average income in the United States is around $50,233, and 1/21 of that is $2,392.05.

I was part of an “experiment” where a class of students was given PalmPilot’s, to see whether it would help us learn more. While there was the inevitable goofing off, I do think that we all came out better off, having learned how to use these devices, gave us a better feel of the (then-new) technology. Moreover, using the interactive study guides they came with was fun and useful. I would love to see the day when these tablets can literally be given away for free to all students, especially if the internet access is free/very cheap.

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