30
Jan
6335695-270-419

Whenever I hear about the latest and greatest tablet under $100, I get a little bit sad inside. It's sort of like that feeling you get when you see a 3-legged dog - your heart is mildly warmed by its perseverance, but the rest of you would much rather look away and think about something a little less... depressing.

Datawind's $50 (2499INR) Aakash tablet is a 2-legged dog. It's powered by a 366MHz ARM11 CPU - a processor architecture released a decade ago. It has a 7", 800x480 resistive touchscreen display. 256MB of RAM is under the hood, an amount I didn't even know was possible to run Android 2.2 on (yes, that's a bit of sarcasm - I know it's possible). And people are ordering them by the pallet-full in the device's country of manufacture: India. Over 1.4 million have been pre-ordered so far, vastly exceeding Datawind's early sales estimates, and their production capacity (they're going to utilize 3 additional factories to meet demand).

Now, it's important to remember that India is a country where the average gross annual salary hovers around $1500, and where the great majority of the population still live in rural areas. But it's also the 2nd most populous nation on earth, and it ranks 4th in worldwide internet use, meaning hundreds of millions of Indian citizens live in the connected world to at least some degree. It's those people who have discovered the next big craze in personal electronics - the tablet.

But in India, iPad 2's and Transformer Primes aren't exactly something the average working stiff decides to go off and pick up at his local Best Buy one day; they're a luxury commodity almost exclusively the province of the rich and powerful. It's in countries like India where companies such as HTC, Samsung, and Nokia make a killing selling low-end budget smartphones to a cash-strapped but rapidly growing consumer electronics market.

And when it comes to things like cheap smartphones, I can see the good this is doing. The budget smartphone is a window to a larger world, and it allows people to communicate in ways that were simply impractical or, more often, too expensive to justify on a limited income. The smartphone empowers people, and I'm not just saying that in some cheesy, romanticized armchair-philosophy sort of way - I really think it's true.

But when I read about cheap tablets, I don't get the same feeling. Here's why.

Tablets are, by their very nature, a luxury. No one needs a tablet - laptops can do nearly everything a tablet does, and a whole lot more, at a lower price and with significantly more computing power and a larger display. But, you say, this is a $50 tablet, it's different because it's so cheap! And anyway, who cares if it's a luxury, people obviously want them. But let's make an analogy. If someone told you that for $3000 they would sell you a car just like a $35,000 BMW (minus a few bells and whistles, of course), would you be interested? Sure, but you'd have to be pretty gullible to believe that kind of offer. Let's say you were, though, and the next day, there was one of these in your driveway.

And hey, they tell you, it's like a BMW in a lot of ways: it has four seats, air conditioning, power windows, a radio, four shiny rims, and a gasoline engine! Same thing, right? If you've never owned anything more costly than a Honda Super Cub, you might think so. But most people would probably be decidedly underwhelmed, having believed they were getting something a lot nicer than they actually did, because similarities to a much nicer product were implicated.

Let's not mince words: almost every tablet out there owes the current success of the form factor to the iPad. It's the tablet everyone either wants to be, or to beat. Consumer demand for cheap tablets stems from the fact that iPads and other high-end tablets are a pretty big expense for most people (particularly in Southeast Asia) to justify on top of a cutting-edge smartphone and a laptop. The moment you tell someone they can have a luxury experience at a bargain-bin price, you're going to turn some heads, just like Tata did with the Nano.

We all know the Aakash tablet is going to be a piece of crap. For $50, though, it can't help but be a piece of crap. It's like asking someone to build a house for $1000 - don't expect vaulted ceilings. Or hardwood floors. Or doors. But this is what happens when you build a product whose sole attractive feature is its price. A $5 lobster dinner is something I would meet with a good deal of skepticism, but a $50 tablet would make me downright suspicious. How long is it supposed to last? 6 months? A year? Will it run any 3rd-party apps in a way that's remotely usable?

There's nothing wrong with building a cheap tablet, but there is something wrong with building one to a price point that guarantees it will be little more than a glorified desk knick knack. Moral of the story? Accountants do not make good product designers. If you're going to build a cheap tablet, build a good cheap tablet.  Yes, that means it will cost more than $50. Probably more than $100. But it also means you'll be selling something that won't end up in a landfill 6 months from now because everyone realizes it for what it is: disposable garbage.

Oh, and the Tata Nano? It has been a near-total commercial failure. It's extremely unsafe, has glaring electrical problems (sometimes causing fires), and been shunned as a "poor man's car" by the press, destroying any hope of the vehicle being marketed as a cheap alternative to more expensive competitors. Price is surely something, but it should never be the only thing. When people see the Aakash for what it is (namely, not anything close to a $500 tablet, or even a $200 one), something tells me Datawind will find itself with more than a few upset customers, and a substantial surplus of tablets.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • mircea89fzr

    LG GT540 has 256 Mb Ram, 156 available and runs ICS smooth. You should reconsider what's possible...

    • Ravi Shah

      is ics on it usable? it shipped with donut..

  • http://www.twitter.com/ahad Ahad Malik

    Our needs and the needs of those in that setting are completely different. The introduction of a simple stripped down tablet that the everyday person could use to get online is amazing. This would provide the basics of a full blown computing experience which many have yet to see. This provides a means of personal e-mail and basic web browsing which millions still don't have.

  • http://www.teamrou.com Phil Oakley

    The Aakash tablet will provide the kickstart for the tablet revolution in the developing nations.

    We are the early adopters of technology (meaning smartphones and tablets). This industry is going to boom 1000% in the next few years, because of tablets like this. And that's a good thing!

    This was taught to me by Joe Stagner and the panel at Apps World Europe, which I won tickets from Android Police, allowing me to go! (Thanks again to Android Police - I learnt so much there!)

  • http://justinalva.wordpress.com Justin Alva

    If it can run Wikipedia smoothly and provide access to other informative content on the internet I think it'd be pretty useful.

    What you don't understand is that it serves as a tool for people who might not be able to afford a computer, a laptop or a tablet to access information.

    It will also serve the purpose of educating people about technology. A lot of people come across technology everyday, are fascinated by it, but rarely engage with it because it presents quite a challenge.

    To truly understand how the tablet would benefit, you would have to have been to India and seen how the country works. Numbers the you quote give only half the picture.

    1.4 million people have pre-ordered (email registered). Even I'm curious about this demographic; their age, income, education level etc. I understand your point of view that for $50, you can expect much. I totally agree Datawind is going to ship junk. But then, as I said, if it serves the purpose of enabling the masses access quality content online, then I think it's a winner.

    Would you also have a negative view on the Raspberry Pi? Because I don't think you can play the latest video games on it.

    These devices are created for a particular reason and should not draw comparison to an iPad. Just like that $3000 dollar car should not compare to a BMW. I don't think Datawind claims that anyways. They call it a tablet because it looks like on and functions like one albeit a lower class one.

  • Shiv Singh

    I for one would probably think of the low-cost tablet as a two-legged dog accompanying a blind person. He doesn't know what the best dogs look like nor cares and is just looking for a companion to get him across the street (basic needs). Coming from India, I know that the most economical smartphones probably cost 3-4 times that of Aakash tablet, and a laptop at least 10 times. Also added to it is the fact that using smartphones or any phone for that matter, is taboo in many educational institutions in India, and tablet use could be considered legitimately for educational purposes only by college authorities. And it is not the first time that such a thing has happened before in the country. A few years ago, a $3k-4k car called the "Nano" was released in India with huge success. The steep price cuts have more to do with supply chains and less emphasis on design and pretty elements as well, and not just the inner hardware.

  • Andy in Indy

    "Tablets are, by their very nature, a luxury. No one needs a tablet - laptops can do nearly everything a tablet does, and a whole lot more, at a lower price and with significantly more computing power and a larger display. But, you say, this is a $50 tablet, it's different because it's so cheap!"

    You miss the point as the very moment you state it: There are no $50 laptops. For some people, the $100 OLPC laptop is a luxury. This is and has always been the target market for the $50 tablet.

    As a kid in the 70's, wouldn't you have been excited to get a device that performed as well as that 366 MHz ARM 11 device? Shucks, up until the mid 00's that level of tech would have left me drooling.

    So what if it's 25% of a luxury iPad - its less than 10% of the cost

    • David Ruddock

      I wouldn't say it's 25% - that's quite generous. My point is that if they are so set on producing a budget tablet, they should focus on making something that meets a standard of quality and usability before a price.

      It's clear here that 2499INR was goal #1 in this endeavor, and they were willing to do anything to meet that price point. I don't see how a $50 device which is nearly useless is a good idea - it's a waste of money, when a $100 device might result in a product that, yes, is more expensive, but will actually last 2 years and would be vastly more usable. It's the issue of overcutting - to the point where the sacrifices made are totally disproportionate to the cost savings.

      When the government is the #1 buyer and subsidizing a product, I think they owe it to their people not to waste that money.

      • Shekhar

        David i would suggest you do some research why exactly Aakash tablet was developed in first place.It wasn't meant to be a fancy gadget capable of doing everything nor it was touted to be something like this at all.First It was developed to help the students to access online Video library designed to teach them the courses in a new innovative way and so Aakash does have a HD co-processor which helps it to play HD videos very smoothly.Second it is meant to ease the burden of school going students from the bulk of books they carry.It does have a decent ebook reader+office suite along with tools to learn maths physics etc.Picking on the price and quality issue without knowing the real purpose is not what is expected in a review at this site.It definitely isn't a tablet-wonder but it is fulfilling it's real purpose very well.Also regarding the question you asked how long it may survive,Indian goverment made sure that students don't have to worry about it.It comes with a 1 year full replacement warranty.

  • Zulqarnain Nizamani

    how long those tabs will run ?

    Every one will throw them away after sometime when they realize that its not something they were looking :)

    those cheap tabs won`t survive much and we will have 2 million of tablets to be recycled :(

    Just a mess :(

  • cyberz

    Samsung sponsored this article right? oh no may be asus transformers dpt. Great job wow

    • Zulqarnain Nizamani

      lol for comment and lol for that error , ur comment is too shor :D

      • cyberz

        this article is funny!
        Author is cribbing even before launch of actual product. Let it launch, let people run and see cost-quality ratio then condemn.
        I think whole point is "how someone is making tab in $50" When did Christ said that tab should come from heaven with three figures price tag??? if someone is making a tab like thing in $50 let it be, if price is only thing then android OS is burden on earth because it comes for free. David lets march to google HQ and shout there.

        Neither manufacturer is daring to challenge with Apple nor target market is CEO's group then why so serious???

        • Shark

          You're funnier!

          Come one, do you seriously think the cost to quality ration will be decent? It may be much better than we think but that's highly improbable.

          I didn't really understand anything after 'When did Christ said' but I'll try reply anyway. I'd say the point the author was trying to make is that a tablet that's actually good (at least usable) will cost 3 figures.

          Also, Android isn't really 'free'. A lot of money must've been pumped into it's development but it's free at the point of use. This tablet, on the other hand, seems like it's just horrid.

          "Neither manufacturer is daring to challenge with Apple nor target market is CEO's group then why so serious???"

          Sorry but I have no idea what you're saying here.

          Overall, I do see how this could be useful for basic browsing i.e. to look up Wikipedia but judging by the specs of this thing it'll probably just frustrate people and end up in landfill.

  • Ravi Shah

    I don't understand how this would help people in rural areas. How will the get access to the internet? Where will they get wifi? I know some areas don't even have reliable cell service...

  • Saurav_wow

    Datawind will be releasing a upgraded version of the original Aakash Tablet @ $60....http://aakashtablet.org/- Read the article on their page for more details..
    According to expert reports, college students around India can get advanced version of Aakash tablet PC at no extra cost. Aakash-2 will be 3 times faster than the original version and will have 50% extra battery life. The advanced version is being prepared according to the feedback got from around 600 IIT and Engineering students.

  • R64

    You do realize that no laptop sells for $60. That BMW vs Nano is a straw man argument.

  • Lazarus Dark

    I agree with the author completely. When I was poorer, I wanted a lot of things. An hdtv, a kickin surround system, a 2002 Ram Air Trans Am.

    I could have gotten cheaper versions of all that. I could have gotten a 26" "hdtv", a $50 surround system, and an old firebird full of rust.

    But those would not have actually been what I wanted. They would have been poor substitutes and they would have broken down in no time, not to mention they wouldn't even actually do what I was really wanting them to do.

    So instead I waited ten years until I could afford these things. (swapping the Trans Am for a Challenger). And its not like I had to have the highest end. I got a solid midrange plasma, surround, and I got the cheapest Challenger they sell with a v8 (again, I didn't compromise for a v6, because that wouldn't actually do what I wanted it to do).

    Point is, they should not sell crap to people. I guarantee, most buyers will be angry and remorseful that they didn't wait until they could afford a solid $200 tab.

    Or worse, they will blame Android, calling it junk and telling people Android sucks. I see this constantly in the US right now with people getting the free Android devices and finding them slow and barely usable. Then I hear them saying Android sucks, and they refuse to believe me when I tell them they just got a cheap phone and they should have sprung for a phone that actually works okay. But really, its not thier fault. Its the manufacturers for making junk they know sucks and the carrier for giving it to customers. Because when a customer comes in, they don't tell them, Hey, that free Android phone is slow as crap and you'll regret it. They just say here ya go, sign this contract, now your stuck with a cheap piece of junk for two years.

    I would like to see them stop making new cheap phones. Instead they should just sell last years top models for cheap, or have the carrier give them free, since they are no doubt cheaper to make and all the bugs are worked out too. This would also solve complaints of no long term support.

    • https://www.facebook.com/iampun33t Puneet Singh

      dude, you could actually wait for the device to come out before commenting on it and the users of this device are not the once who want a high end experience for a cheap price but they are just the ones who want to be able to do such things as watch videos and read things in their hands. believe me, you will have to visit India to realize it yourself.

  • Edd

    If the choice was between no bike and a shi*t bike, I'd rather have the bike

  • cramleir

    OK, I have to ask, how many legs did that dog have when you found it?

  • Rune

    Wow! To start off.... the comments are more delightful to read than the article itself :D

    This tablet was made with an intention of educating and increasing literacy under the "National Mission on Education through Information & Communication Technology (NME-ICT)". This was seen as a tool- "a mass tool" to spread literacy in villages and rural areas. This is also supposed to be a catalyst of sorts (I don't know if this'll work) to increase connectivity in rural areas.

    To understand the pricing or the product itself you have to understand the Indian demographic. This is supposed to reach those schools and far away places where students sit on floor and have never even seen a computer in their lives. Imagine, the impact on these kids when they see, "all the magical things" a tablet can do. This might inspire, encourage and enlighten so many kids.

    Looking at it as a "Cheap product" does not really do justice to the real intention with which it was built. This is not the first time, the Government has challenged the companies out there to make something cheap. The Government not only looks at it from the business point of view but also how it can benefit the people. These kids do not need to sync their calendars or skype with their kin! They just need to be shown a browser that magically relays things happening around the world and, that's the spark they need! I can give you hundreds of scientists, researchers and scholars in India who did not have the tools/ methods to reach the position that they did in their field (For starters, Google A.P.J. Abdul Kalam :D). God knows how many more intellectuals, they might get if provided the tools!

    You and me can wait for the ipads and the primes pay a little extra buck for just better screen resolution and camera and then ditch the one you own in a year and buy the new one (kinda like iphone4 & iphone 4S) but lotta people out there do not even know this exists.
    There was a comment about rather not having a bike than having a shitty bike. Trust me, there are kids out there who would be amused rolling down a tyre with a stick!

    • http://justinalva.wordpress.com Justin Alva

      Very well said.

      And I did roll a tyre with a stuck when I'd head to my ancestral house to stay with aunt and uncle. My cousin and I would go down to the fields and do that. He was oblivious to the fact that there was a complex world outside.

      Unfortunately, the author and a lot of people here don't know the first thing about India.

      There are more valid concerns, like, how are these kids going to use the Wi-Fi!!

  • Himmat

    You say "...stems from the fact that iPads and other high-end tablets are a pretty big expense for most people (particularly in Southeast Asia)..."

    Actually, I think you meant to say South Asia. India is in South Asia, not South East Asia.

    And if you really meant to say SEA, then let me tell you that tablets are all the rage here - well at least in Singapore and Malaysia. People are buying them like nobody's business.

  • Phy

    By the way.... did TATA publicise NANO as a high end machine like BMW? Grow up Man! They never did that. Nano is for middle class people who can not afford to buy those expensive cars. Even Datawind did not say Akash as a high-end tablet.

    • http://gadgetstip.com aatif

      Agree with you .. What people expect in 2500 rs ? in 50$

  • Al McDowall

    A massively underpowered, cheap tablet for a niche market who can not afford anything better...this is actually a good thing and actually part of the Android legacy.

    One of the huge benefits of Android being open source is that it can be used as the OS for devices covering a wide range of budgets. Not everyone needs the fastest hardware, not everyone needs to be able to play the latest games. However, if you can put access to the internet and the ability to create, store and edit documents into the hands of those to whom this would usually be financially unavailable, then this can only be a good thing.

    I'm still delighted with my little Novo7a. Sure, I'd love a Transformer (GPS issues or not) and in fact, I could buy one right now if I could justify blowing that money on a total luxury. I live in an apartment with two Android smartphones, a laptop, a desktop, an XBox and a Wii. I really don't need more stuff.

    But I am in a very privileged position and I am well aware of it. I've travelled around SE Asia (admittedly not South Asia, but people with restricted finances live everywhere) and I know that to many, this tablet offers the first chance to really step into the digital age.

    The iPhone has been described as putting the internet into everyone's pocket. This tablet gives the same opportunity to many more people.

  • http://gadgetstip.com aatif

    Thing is that a 250$ iphone in USA goes to india and it becomes a 50k phone !! And in india not everyone has even 10k rs salary . So you can't expect more sales of iphone . People who don't know much about tablets are buying it to see how tablets work :) becuz they can't afford 30k ipad or galaxy tab .

    • Rahul Garg

      Atif,

      Actually the 250$ iphone argument is a bit flawed bro, the unlocked iphone still retails for about 600-700$ = 30-40K INR
      Now the 199/299$ iphone u get in the US is a locked down version, ATT, VZW or whtever and whn u actually evaluate the cost of using it in a 2 year contract period it comes way more than the 30-40K INR you'd give to use it.

      Lemme explain:
      say u give 299$ for the iphone 4S 64 GB on 2 yr contract to ATT, this is a 1 time deal.

      Next u *gotta* purchase a monthly internet pack which is about 15$-50$ (no unlimited i might add) and this is *monthly*.

      Next u gotta have a 35$ pack for text/voice, again monthly.

      Now calculate it over 24 months, its about 1200$ for 24 months.

      So why do people buy it on contract?? Simple, because they can :p

  • Rahul Garg

    David,

    I generally like your articles but i'm afraid this one is a bit off-track.

    The purpose of this supposed "tablet" isnt to provide a super awesome customer experience, as one of the commentors said a shitty bike is always better than no bike. People in the rural areas in India dnt even kno that u could play a song out of 2 inch device, they see TV(without cable i might add) in mass gatherings which is sponsored by the head of the village, they watch movies in breaks for 3 days; now try to imagine if they're handed a device which shows them a movie in their hands. I'm pretty certain that the first reaction of an average rural Indian would be that this "thing" has evil powers of somekind. Do u see where I'm heading??

    Most of the people who booked this device dont care if it can't run Shadowngun on 25 fps, they dnt even care if it doesn't have a fluid UI. For them this is the FIRST thing that can actually do something anything in their hands. I'm certain that most of the people dont even kno the terms UI, fluidity, fps and other fancy schmancy.

    U actually have to see India to realize this. I'm not sayin that there aren't people who can't afford luxury, but that number is very very limited. For the rest, this Aakash tablet is their first foray into the smartphone/tablet world.

    As for the Tata Nano comment, i know its unsafe n has a lot of problems but its still better than wearing a helmet and riding on a rickety old scooter!! And its success plus other manufacturers following suit shows this. U have to realize that India is still a developing nation.

    For us Aakash = as magical an experience as the beloved iPad/Transformer/whtever...

    *End of Rant*

  • https://www.facebook.com/iampun33t Puneet Singh

    David, i would totally agree with you, if you were actually this stupid everytime. You say yourself, in this article itself, the average income of people of India. So do you want them to be deprived of the Internet just because its not a Transformer Prime or an iPhone? Are you really that stupid to actually compare the TATA Nano to a BMW, man LOL. You may not know this but do research it over Tata never wanted to sell a cheap BMW but just a cheap four wheeler for the masses, and trust me they could have made a much better "cheap BMW" as Tata is the current owner of Jaguar and RangeRover. You dont even know the ground reality when you live in California and personally use a Motorola DROID Bionic. Do Some research about:
    1. Aakash Tablet Development History
    2. India
    3. You Stupid Mentality

    And trust me everything that comes for $500 isn't treasure and $50 isn't crap.
    I too have pre ordered the Aakash Tablet and all i can is:
    We will All Laugh at Gilded Butterflies.

    • cyberz

      Puneet please don't flame. Its just that author missed a point. Lets keep this discussion clean. I don't agree with author but don't go personal.

  • http://pctonic.net Ashutosh

    I have to agree. In fact, I read this article a few days back on how the Indian government could have something actually useful and cheap for the people instead of spewing out a useless, me-too tablet. >> http://atulchitnis.net/2012/tech-benefits/

  • Dan

    Has anybody done a copy-paste of this article to first-world-problems.com yet?

  • George

    the author is a looney to say the least. a decent scientific calculator costs me $50 bucks. I can do all that and way more and not be afraid to toss it around, shove it in the back pocket of my jeans, not care about buying $50 protective cases, and a helluva lot more. For $50 bucks, 50 bucks!!!!!!!!!!

  • GraveUypo

    blah blah blah. you make up tons of excuses, but all you're worried about is that android might look bad. I really hate this kind of android zealots.

    let india mind it's own business. let the market work out its own problems. who are you to tell people 'you don't know the first thing about' what they need.

    its a cheap tablet, but it's still better than what you had 3 years ago... which is probably nothing.

    that aside, tablets USED TO BE only a luxury. they're now heading in other directions, they're now becoming tools. most universities and high-schools in my city give cheap tablets (better than this one, but still cheap) to their students as part of the standard school supplies... in this case, it pretty much works as a high-tech book with interactive content and a easy way to access the internet from the classroom.

    have fun living in 2009.

    • Phy

      If you want INDIA to mind its own business, why don't you mind yours?

  • Salomanuel

    In '96 my windows 95 powered machine had 166mhz, but i remember that i used to play, watch videos, write, make some graphics
    it was a crappy pc, but it worked, it produced some nice products
    i think that the author is just used to live with too much money and comforts

  • http://twitter.com/djrits Ritesh

    Wow... what a terribly ill-informed author and what a load of elitist drivel without even knowing the basic facts. This tablet is for those that cannot afford anything else. This is not for people who're looking to add to their laptop and smartphone. Its for people who do not have either and would enable them to get online and access the world of info on the internet. Its not about running the greatest new apps or Fruit Ninja at 60 fps.. its about the most basic tasks like a browser to access the web.

    Its a necessity that will enable millions of poor kids and youth in a country like India to enjoy their right to information and education.

    Look at it just as a device and not a "tablet" and you might just begin to understand what it's about.

    And no, smartphones and tablets in India are not for the "rich & powerful".. its for the ever-growing middle class which is probably as much as the entire population of the US. You have absolutely no idea of the country you're talking about. Stop acting like you know when you clearly don't!

  • Cnby

    Could this thing accommodate a proper (standard) keyboard and USB connection to desktop? Chargeable from a 110v square wave inverter? Would be perfect for me to use at the cottage as a mini cheapo laptop for the odd time I get inspired to compose something. over the weekend. If this were the case, I would have to reject the logic of this article and line up to get one.

    • Rohit

      Yep you can connect a full size keyboard. I have one from the IBM server versions! Don't know about the 110v square wave inv. (you got to be kidding me! use a 5V step down SMPS from your car battery)

  • Rohit

    What can I say, I own one, the "primeape" version. If you were into reading books, you wouldn't really care about the FPS :). The screen is pretty good in terms of readability, as in, its "crystal clear" with all the antialiasing stuff they put in. The only trouble is battery and heating... I guess I could fix that myself (I tried to open it and looks like fixing it is gonna be easy)

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