The honor of announcing the launch of the first Aakash tablet in the fall of 2011 – the $35 miracle that was supposed to finally bring internet connectivity to the most remote parts of India – fell to Kapil Sibal, the country’s minister for both human resource development and communication and information technology. For the tablet’s second iteration, DataWind, the company tasked with creating the Aakash 2, aimed a little bit higher. Calling it the “Tablet of the nation,” announcing the gadget’s imminent launch fell to the Honorable President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee.
A heavy burden of expectations followed the announcement of the very first Aakash tablet in October of last year. Billed as the cheapest tablet in the world at the time – the cost of each was $35, and the government gave away the first 100,000 for free – the hope was that the low price of the device, which was in part subsidized by the Indian government, would go a long way toward erasing the technological divide between the country’s richest and poorest communities.
Efforts to create the updated version, however, ran into problems manly due to DataWind, who won the contract by submitting the lowest bid despite lacking experience in a project of this magnitude. At the time, there were even some concerns that the Aakash 2 might die before it was ever born. Thankfully, that didn’t turn out the be the case.
Although the tablet is only slated to become generally available starting this month – the updated version boasts a better screen, longer battery life and an operating system bump to Android 2.0 – the commercial version, called UbiSlate 7Ci, has already garnered positive reviews from TechChrunch. They called it a tablet that could connect the world after having a chance to play with it earlier this year.
The goal of the cheap computing device – it is anticipated that the gadget will sell for $35 – is to give every child in India, regardless of income, an affordable way to connect to the internet. But it isn’t only the tablet that is raising excitement; it is the commitment behind it. With its launch, the Indian government is also making a promise for a prompt build-out of internet infrastructure that will bring access to even the most remote parts of the country.
For all the positives, the first Aakash tablet didn’t impress many among its target audience. In addition to being criticized as being too big, too slow, and possessing too short a battery life, the main complaint seemed to have been with its build quality: it was simply too fragile to operate well in the environment for which it was destined.
Aakash 2 not only solves the issues of speed and performance, but is also hardier by employing sturdier materials for both body and screen. Its ecosystem has also been substantially enlarged thanks to IIT Bombay’s Open Source Development Lab, which created a number of applications for the Aakash including a C++ compiler, a 3D modeler, some assessment tools and even apps that allow for easier collaboration between users.
The Subrao Nilekani Chair Professor at IIT Bombay, Dr. Deepak B. Phatak, heads the project at IIT Bombay with the support of C-DAC. Professor Phatak stated “I’m not only confident, but sure that Aakash 2.0 is here to stay.” In the first phase, DataWind is to supply 100,000 units of Aakash 2 to IIT Bombay, which intends to distribute them to Engineering University and College students. NME-ICT Director, N.K.Sinha said, “We envision all 220 million students across India to be enabled by low cost Aakash devices in the coming years.”