Seema Singh recaps some of the history of the Aakash and related efforts for Forbes India. The Aakash got its start with a tender for 10K units from IIT Jodhpur, which was expanded to an order for 100K from the Indian government. DataWind, the company that secured the initial tender, ran a pilot which received much fanfare, but distributed only 572 tablets to 19 colleges.
There was some debate as to whether these met the initial spec; and work was refocused on an updated design, the Aakash 2. Â It’s unclear whether the rest of the inital 10K tablets were distributed to the government; 30K of that model were sold online marketed as the UbiSlate.Â The Aakash 2 is currently being tested by DataWind and two institutions in India, with hopes for a [new] school pilot of 100K students this fall. Â The first of those machines are being deployed this month.
DataWind has had trouble meeting deadlines and demand. Â They were beset by many external pressures:Â heavy pressure to keep the price down, the scrutiny of a very public launch, and requirements that much of their supply chain and manufacturing be based in India (which limited the number of possible partners and added a few single points of failure).
They have accumulated many non-binding statements of interest in v.2 of the tablet; but it’s not clear how many will convert now to sales. Â And after a half-year of heady press they have suffered a half-year of negative backlash. Â They now aim to offer the commercial version of the Aakash 2 for just under $65; and the Indian government still plans to subsidize half the cost of a model for students – at least for the 100K in this year’s pilot. Â While this is still an impressive undertaking, as it was when announced last year, the delay has hurt the national story. Â Now people like Singh are calling the project a disaster rather than a landmark success, and worrying that China will launch a similar program first.
Singh highlights a few related projects from around the country:
- The “$10 laptop” effort started in 2009 by Technical Education secretaryÂ NK Sinha (which did not produce a laptop nor contribute IP to the current project)
- The Ministry of Rural Development’s socioeconomic census, which commissioned 640K tablets in 2011 and 2012 for its door-to-door surveys (at $72, from Bharat Electronics, with no drama but their admitted inability to meet the ministry’s request of a $35 price point)
- The Tamil Nadu government’s “one laptop per student” program to deliver 1.4M laptops to college students each year for the next 5 years. (They have 6 different vendors sharing the task)
She notes thatÂ some of the Tamil Nadu vendors are finding it difficult to complete their deliveries under budget. Â ButÂ neglects to note that the program was successful enough for Uttar Pradesh to copy it, recentlyÂ putting outÂ a tenderÂ for roughly 250K tablets (for students passing their 10th grade exams) and 200K laptops (for those passing their 12th grade exams), as year 1 of a multi-year program.
We will see whether DataWind manages to make good on their goal of millions of sales this year. Â Kapil Sibal continues to push for all 220M students in India to have their own laptop or tablet. Â And he continues to say compelling things of his vision, such as “It will be a device that creates content.”Â One way or another, I hope that vision is realized.