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Announcing the $49 computer tablet

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1 Announcing the $49 computer tablet on Thu Oct 20, 2011 8:56 am



New Delhi (CNN) -- India's Ministry of Education on Wednesday revealed what it calls the least expensive computer tablet in the world: a device that costs 2,276 rupees, or less than $50.

To launch the tablet, Kapil Sibal, the minister of human resources and development, communications and information, gave a lofty speech in front of a crowd of students in New Delhi.

"There are some moments in history which will be milestones recognized by future generations. This is one such moment." Sibal said. "Today, we see the beginning of a dream realized; a dream in which every student in every corner of this country will have access to technology that defines the 21st century."

The device is called Aakash, which means "sky" in Hindi. It is the product of a joint venture between one of India's elite Institutes of Technology -- IIT Rajasthan -- and DataWind, the manufacturer that won the bid.

"Every vision has detractors. A lot of things were said about this project ... (that) it was simply impossible. But it wasn't just that others said it can't get done by Indians or in India. The worst was when people said we wish it wouldn't happen," said Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of DataWind.

But while the device is assembled in India, it is not completely made there. Roughly 40% of the parts come from South Korea, 25% from China, 16% from the United States and 16% from India.

Still, one student in the crowd remarked: "You cannot even get a touch screen phone at this price. People used to say only China can make such devices. We can now say yes, India is on par."

The idea was dreamed up by the Education Ministry through its National Mission on Education through Information and Technology (NME-ICT).

On the box, the gadget is not called a computer tablet but a "mobile Internet device." It uses Android technology and is light, 7 inches long, and has an HD screen. The ministry has put professors' lectures from IIT on the device, which can, of course, also play movies.

It does have a few drawbacks. It has Internet access only via Wi-Fi, and it has only 2 gigabytes of internal memory, but that can be boosted to 32 gigabytes with an SD card. The touch screen is not as sensitive as that of an iPad, so scrolling with fingers takes some real digging. The students quickly figured out that using a pen as a stylus worked better.

The Education Ministry admits the Aakash is not perfect, but it says it will improve on its product as it gets feedback from students.

In India, buying a new BlackBerry or an iPhone 4 will set you back from $500 to $700, and most people cannot afford a price anywhere near that. The Aakash would cater to many more people, but it is not for sale yet.

At this point, only 100,000 of the devices are in the manufacturing pipeline. The Education Ministry says it will send those to colleges in India's 33 states and territories. It is meant for the disadvantaged, not those who can buy any new gadget they want.

"[It's] for the benefit of students who do not have access to libraries." a government official said.

But at some point -- maybe in November -- the private company that helped complete the project may begin sales, but only in India for now.

This isn't the first time the country has surprised the world with an amazingly inexpensive product. In 2009, Tata Motors wowed critics with the world's cheapest car. The Tata Nano was priced at less than $2,500.

Those in India's Education Ministry say they dream of a day when students around the world are able to get their hands on an Aakash computer, because of its affordability. And the ministry and its partners are not done trying to bring down the price. The ultimate goal is to make a computer for just $10. They are on their way.

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