Jag Venugopal's Blog

July 23, 2010

India’s $35 computer — something new or Simputer redux?

Filed under: Digital Living,India — Jag @ 1:02 am
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From the old country comes news that a $35 computer has been developed. Going by the looks of it, it’s a touch-screen device with Wi-Fi. As usual, the IT press, both local and foreign is getting all excited about it, and calling it an iPad competitor.

I’m not sure how realistic the $35 price target is.  On an iPad, the LCD alone costs in the region of $80-90 according to some estimates. Even the cheapest LCD, together with an Intel Atom or ARM CPU, minimal RAM and some Flash easily comes up to around $100 or so. And that’s not even taking into account the cost of the operating system, which one can assume will be Android or some other free Linux variant. This reminds me of a recent $10 computer that turned out to be nothing but a plastic brick with wires running into it, and the Simputer, a PalmPilot clone of a decade ago. The latter was much talked about as a device that would bring computing to the masses. Reams were written about India’s technical prowess in designing the Simputer. The device never saw the light of day other than, perhaps, a few prototypes.

My suspicion is this… that the Indians were given a deadline by some government minister to come up with a computer that could be shown to the general public as a $35 gadget. And one of the project team members had a great idea… fly to China and get an iPed!

I would place much greater trust in claims of a $35 computer if they were made by the private sector in India, say by the Tatas of Nano fame, or by Wipro, or better still, by the Chinese, who after all, are at this point light years ahead of India in cheap manufacturing. The scientists that supposedly designed this thing have no experience with consumer electronics design, or any form of manufacturing. I’m not exactly sure how they arrived at the estimate of $35, given their lack of experience.

This is not to denigrate the country of my birth. India has had some remarkable successes, with cell phones in the hands of every second Indian, an amazing supply of low-cost hatchbacks starting at $2500, a line of motorcycles that won China’s best compliment — the creation of a knockoff, and an unbelievably vibrant entertainment industry comprising Bollywood and countless channels of every hue that are seen far and wide in Asia and Africa. Keep in mind, though, that all of this came from private enterprise, not from researchers in some government institute.

07/26/10 Update: The Indian press has now started to say much the same thing.

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