Jag Venugopal's Blog

October 5, 2011

The $35 tablet is here, for $60

Filed under: Digital Living,India — Jag @ 7:11 pm

The much ballyhooed $35 tablet promoted by Indian education minister Kapil Sibal is here. Engadget is reporting that it is an off-the-shelf Ubislate 7 from a company called Datawind.

How do they get the cost down to $35? Simple… government subsidies. Never mind that the Indian government is running a deficit, and has on its hands such gems as a fertilizer company that never made an ounce of fertilizer, or cable manufacturers that make zero feet of cable each year. They are now in the tablet marketing business.

I would be excited if there was some technological advance that could qualify as innovation on the cost front. Instead, what you have is a bottom-drawer Android tablet sold by a non-name company, subsidized by the Indian government for God knows what purpose.

Rather than coming up with such cockamamie schemes, it would make a much greater difference if they did something meaningful at the primary school level… get more kids to show up, have teachers that teach, and provide decent classrooms. I’m sure $35 can buy a lot in the rural areas — providing employment to teachers and a semblance of education to children who desperately need it.

The purpose to which these tablets will be put is unclear. (no educational software, word processing, spreadsheets, software development tools, etc). After the fanfare has died, I suspect it will play a central role in granting young men easy access to the abundance of “tube” sites on the Internet.

Postscript: Indian readers with gray hair will recognize a time in the early eighties when Color TV had just been introduced, and a government firm, ECIL, started manufacturing them. Everyone was promised one of these new-fangled gadgets for 5000 Rupees, approximately half the going rate from private manufacturers. I remember badgering my father to call the dealer week after week asking if they had any in stock. They never received any — after a few specimens at the advertised price, the government tired of handing out 5000-Rupee subsidies to each purchaser. Similarly, I suspect that after a few token batches of the tablet have been sold, it will go “out of stock”, and die a slow and unheralded death.

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