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Some Good News | The Revolutionary 20$ Tablet

Suneet Tuli, CEO of Datawind, holds up the commercial version of his company’s new Aakash 2 tablet Datawind

Suneet Tuli, the 44-year-old CEO of UK/Canadian/Indian startup Datawind is about to bring into the world a revolutionary and culture changing small computer tablet called the Askash2. They will sell for $20 US or 1100 Rupees. Why is this twenty dollar tablet so revolutionary? Because on Sunday Nov. 11, the president of India, Pranab Mukherjee, unveiled the seven-inch Aakash 2 tablet computer Tuli’s company is selling to the government for distribution to 100,000 university students and professors. If things go well, the government plans to order as many as 5.86 million and make them available to public school children in India and eventually 200 million students will be given the tablet. This in a country where 95% of people do not have computer access.

“Aakash means “blue sky” in Hindi, and that’s a fair description of Datawind’s goals for the tablet. In the developing world, and especially in India, a country where one billion people have a monthly income less than $200, every rupee matters. Ultimately, says Tuli, the government would like to distribute one to each of India’s 220 million students. India has 900 million cell phone subscriptions, but in a country where smartphones are rare, 95% of Indians have no computing device.

The Aakash 2 is no toy. Even jaded US gadget reviewers have found it as usable as tablets costing many times more. It has a processor as powerful as the first iPad and twice as much RAM memory. It uses Google’s Android operating system, which now runs on three out of four smartphones and four out of 10 tablets shipped worldwide. Its LCD touchscreen displays full-screen video without hiccups, it browses the web, and it even holds up when playing videogames. If you’re a student with no other computing device, attaching a keyboard to it transforms it into a serviceable replacement for a traditional PC.”

“The revolution will come from the developing world to the US,” says Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur and academic. “These tablets will kill the markets for high-end players—for Microsoft in particular.”

“Our effort in all of this,” says Tuli, “Was to use technology to fight poverty. What happens when you try to make it affordable at this level?” The Aakash 2, for example, is currently assembled in Amritsar, a city in the far north of India, near the border with Pakistan. But, says Tuli, “We don’t rule out assembly done in the US. Labor is not a big component to this, so if it costs me $1.50 extra and I can put a ‘made in USA’ label on it, then it’s something we will seriously consider.”

Inevitably, tablets will become ubiquitous in education. Already, wealthy schools are abandoning textbooks in favor of iPads. “I get school boards and schools from the US and Canada regularly calling us up, asking for devices,” says Tuli. “Inner-city schools say to us, ‘It’s not just a problem over there—40% of our kids don’t have access to PCs and the internet.”

The world’s isolated, rural and impoverished places are just the sort of locations where Tuli sees tablets acting as an educational supplement. In a recent experiment in Ethiopia, Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the original “One Laptop Per Child” project, gave Android-powered tablets to children in an isolated village. Despite having never had any previous contact with high technology, within months children had used the tablets to teach themselves the English alphabet.

This technology revolution coming from the developing countries is just the tp of the iceberg when it comes to world changing effects. India and China will soon manufacture more cars than the US and Europe combined. For instance India’s Tata Motors has a line of cars coming out that will sell in the 2500 dollar range, about the same price as many upgrades to more expensive US cars. Right now the American auto industry is being “protected” from an inundation of these micro cars due to a trade restriction placed in the auto bailout. Not that I’m saying that a billion Indians and Chinese getting internal combustion cars is a good thing. The point is that the technology coming from these two countries is going to rapidly change the entire world and serve to lift hundreds of millions out of literally living in the dark.

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