Monday, July 26, 2010

Why India’s $35 Tablet May Be Just a Dream

Why India’s $35 Tablet May Be Just a Dream

A prototype tablet from India that looks similar to the iPad but costs a few hundred dollars less than the magical device is on its way, according to the country’s government officials who showed the device at an event Thursday.
The Linux-based tablet from India is priced at $35 with the potential to drop it to either $20 or $10. The tablet will support video conferencing and wireless, have open source software on it including Open Office, and will include a media player. It will also have a solar-power option.
The government has not disclosed details about the tablet’s processing power, memory or storage. It is also not clear if the device will have a touchscreen or a pen-based input.
The Indian government hopes to bring the tablet into production in 2011, but first it must find partners to build it. So far, no manufacturers have been announced, though officials claim several have expressed interest.
The success of Apple’s iPad and the demand among consumers for a slick media-consumption tablet has spurred the quest for a low-cost device that has the looks of an iPad and the functionality of a laptop. The One Laptop Per Child Project in the United States recently announced that it is planning to create a $75 OLPC tablet. But the first version of that tablet is unlikely to be available before the end of next year. OLPC’s current low-cost laptop sells for $200.
In March, chip maker Marvell showed a prototype that will offer web access and high-definition content for just $100. The tablet called Moby will be targeted at students, says Marvell, and it will run Marvell’s Armada 600 series of application processors. So far,  Marvell’s $100 tablets have yet to go beyond a reference design.
Current estimates on the cost of components show that getting the cost of a device below $100 isn’t easy.
The cheapest version of Apple’s iPad costs $500. A teardown of the iPad shows the bill of materials alone for it is $230. A six-inch black-and-white screen on a Kindle 2 alone costs $60, according to iSuppli.
To create its $35 tablet, the Indian government says it partnered with some of the country’s best technical universities including the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Students involved in the project created their own motherboard and PCBs for the device, say officials. Interestingly, the government says private companies in the country showed little interest in the idea.
The bill of materials of a prototype tablet came to $47. But officials didn’t explain how they think that cost can shrink to $35 and lower.
“It could be seen that by customizing the device to the needs of learners across the country, and by utilizing the processor capabilities of the processors suitable for the purpose, it was possible to substantially reduce the prices of such access-cum-computing devices,” a press release from the country’s Press Information Bureau said.
Deciphering that is not easy. Even more puzzling is that the announcement of the tablet did not mention who will manufacture the product or how it will be distributed. It is also not clear if the $35 price tag includes a small profit margin or if the product will be sold entirely at cost.
Despite the introduction of the latest tablet with much fanfare, India doesn’t have a history of delivering on its much-hyped promises about electronic devices. For instance, Indian startup Notion Ink has been promising a tablet for months called Adam that is yet to hit the market. In February 2009, Indian government officials announced a $10 laptop that ultimately proved to be vaporware.
The $35 tablet could go the same way.
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