23 October 2011

Indian Babus Are No Steve Jobs

Will "Aakash" become the Tata Nano of the mobile world? If we can believe the words of Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal who said the low cost tablet is generating a lot of enthusiasm in U.S., the answer is certainly "No". The initial hype and expected mass acceptance of Nano proved to be wrong and many wonder if the much-talked about Aakash will meet with the same fate. However, Sibal went on to say that several companies in the U.S. have evinced interest to associate with the project to further raise its efficiency and productivity.

"This is dedicated to all of you who are disempowered, living in the fringes of the society," he said when he unveiled the $35 tablet, the cheapest touch-screen tablet of India, without making any ostentatious statements in the element of Ratan Tata's iconic staement "A promise is a promise."

akash tablet
The ultra-cheap tablet launched by Indian government for secondary school students is priced just at $35. Datawind, a company owned by an Indian-Canadian designed "Akash". Sibal proclaims this will take low-priced computing to the masses, "The poorest of students and the most deprived of youths will be accessing world class lectures, the best of the technological world".

The tablet costs $46, but the government subsidized the difference of $11. It offers high-quality web, social networking, instant messaging, multimedia and gaming experience. It has a 7-inch touch screen and runs on Android 2.2. There is a high definition video co-processor for a high-quality multimedia experience and core graphics accelerator for faster application support. The specially created browser, UbiSurfer, accelerates web pages by factors of 10x to 30x. The device is equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity and supports optional 3G modems. Two USB ports allow pen drives, external keyboards and other peripherals to be attached.

Wait! Hold the champagne, as all of this raises a lot of questions which are yet to be answered. What kind of marketing plan does the government have in mind? How will distribution work? Will students using these tablets have access to connectivity? Have content partners been identified?

Keeping aside our typical doubts, we wonder if the device could be a game changer. India's involvement in the digital space has been gloomy. We have no iconic brands or products in that dome.

akash tablet
Nevertheless, if this move gets tangled in a bureaucratic web, it possibly will just fall flat as yet another gimmick. This sarcasm of many experts strengthens from the extraordinarily low price of the device and collapse of many other such exercises undertaken by the government in the past.

Cheapness never guarantees customers. It's not the first time India is out with ultra cheap initiatives. We still are not out of Tata Group's Nano car that sells for under $3,000. The much hyped Tata Nano, revealed 2 years back, is still a disappointment. Many in government egged on the belief that Indians principally care about price, as one-third of the Indian population lives below $1 a day. Price is cared more than the value. Therefore, projects like Tata Nano are wished to replicate in public sector.

The past follies seem to have faded in government's mind. In 2005, government had flagged down a $200 Mobilis computer, based on free Linux software and prior to that in 2002, a hand-held computer called the "Simputer," costing $240 was planned too, but both failed. As politicians were actively thinking of subsidizing older products, the computer industry had itself innovated to push the market price down.

Government all over again invested at least $5 million into a doubtful unproven product. Akash is likely to be a failure as computers are available at soil cheap prices. And phenomenal rise of cell phones is yet another reason.
akash tablet
It just takes merely $15 to own a basic Indian cell phone that is much cheaper than Akash. They can increasingly do things that computers and tablets do. Moreover, cell phones can be charged through batteries in areas with little or no electricity whereas for Akash an extra payment has to be done for wireless connection.

This expands the jeopardy of the Aakash project, not to mention the possible squander and fraud that typically accompanies Government initiatives like this. It may be inappropriate at this time when cell phone applications are multiplying at much lower cost. By endorsing the tablet, the government is making a gamble that could very well go wrong.

As an alternative, the Indian government's policies should put forward the utmost promising flexibility, and then leave it to the market to work out what suits consumers best. Bureaucrats may suppose they can identify where the future demand will lie, but they are no Steve Jobs.

There is no doubt that Internet access works in a different way in the U.S. than it does in India and at least for now, India needs diverse ways to supply its population access to the Internet than does the United States.

There is a genuine requirement in India for an essential, low cost Internet device that possibly will also serve as a cell phone, one such as the Aakash. An expenditure of $60 is about 6 percent of the annual per capita income in India, which is far more adequate. It is equivalent to about $2,800 in the U.S. It isn't cheap, but it's better than $25,000.

ajkash tablet
In India, the Aakash certainly has a vivid future. It entirely fills a need and offers a reasonably priced way to communicate and access information on the Internet.

In the U.S., it is a dissimilar story. Envision the first reviews with criticisms about a dreadful display, lack of storage space, slow processor and cheap materials. People in the U.S. have diverse outlook, and while it could be cool to possess a $35 or $50 tablet initially, but to run fascinating applications, the device requires older version of Android. We Indians has no such expectations, as you can't tend to miss something which you have never experienced. The Aakash will allow millions of people in India to access the Internet, people who could not have beforehand afforded Internet browsing. Also, foresees the new ways of wireless communication it may ease. But a $35 or $50 tablet is what India desires today. In the U.S. this tablet would unquestionably fail.