The Indian government has unveiled a tablet it says can be made for US$35, a price that barely covers a third of the cost of the display for Apple’s iPad. The device will offer very limited functionality — Web browsing, video conferencing, and word processing — and it is intended for use in India’s 25,000 colleges and 500 universities.
The BBC reported that the device runs on solar power, and that it will use a memory card for storage in the manner of many cell phones and digital cameras. The operating system, therefore, will be embedded, and the Indian government said it will run a version of Linux.
At this point, the device is little more than a prototype designed at the government’s behest by the Indian Institute of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science. The country’s Human Resource Development Ministry is currently talking to several OEM manufacturers about actually making the device. No deals are yet in place.
If the prototype can be turned into an actual shipping product, it could be an important product for India. WolframAlpha shows India’s population in 2008 to have been 1.18 billion, with a GDP per capita of $1,060. Compare that to the GDP per capita of the United States of $45,200 in 2008, and the importance of a limited-function cheap device that can surf the Web, write documents, and video conference should be apparent.
Indeed, this isn’t the first very low cost device that has been attempted for developing countries. The same Ministry involved in this new project announced a $10 laptop in 2009 called Sakshat that, A.) wasn’t actually a laptop, and B.) never actually came to anything. On the other hand, the One Laptop Per Child project has shipped more than a million laptops for less than $200 to children in the developing world, and the non-profit has plans for a less-than-$99 tablet.
Should India’s new project come to fruition as a shipping product, it isn’t likely to take market share from Apple’s iPad and other Android and WebOS devices coming to market, but it could greatly increase the spread of computing devices into the hands of people with fewer and fewer resources.
You can see a photograph of a Ministry official holding the device in the BBC’s full report.