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New step to digitalisation

India's $35 computing device a prototype of which was unveiled by Kapil Sibal in July, 2010 has finally been unveiled. Named Aakash, the 7-inch Android 2.2 tablet certainly took its time coming.

When our government first made the ambitious announcement, it was greeted with much amusement. Then came controversy, with allegations that the prototype shown had actually been made in China.

Cynicism followed when the January 15 launch date was missed. It may be safe to assume, then, that Sibal and Co are probably a happy bunch today.

Aakash has been manufactured by DataWind, a developer of wireless web access products and services, in collaboration with IIT Rajasthan.
 
It offers WiFi connectivity, expandable memory via an SD card slot, 2GB internal flash memory and USB ports.
 
There's also an app for social networking and instant messaging. The government intends to deliver 10 million of these tablets at a subsidised target price of Rs 1,750 per unit ($35) to post-secondary students.
 
There will also be a commercially available mass market version called UbiSlate in stores this November for Rs 2,999 ($60), which will feature a cellular modem.

A number of questions still remain, of course: How will distribution work? What sort of marketing plan does the government have in mind? Will students using these tablets have access to connectivity? Have content partners been identified?

Putting aside our usual scepticism though, we wonder if the device could be a game changer. India's contribution to the digital space has been dismal. We have no iconic brands or products in that arena.
 
Sure, Vinod Dham's work on flash memory, Sabeer Bhatia's Hotmail and Arun Netravali's contribution to digital compression have made a difference, but can we create a juggernaut like Apple? Will Aakash, the world's cheapest tablet, make us proud? We'll know soon enough.

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