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The $47 Aakash Android Tablet Will Revolutionize Internet Access

By Wayan Vota on January 23, 2012

aakash internet access technology

Last year, the Canadian/Indian company Datawind, announced the $35 Aakash Android tablet computer as an ICT solution for education. While I still believe that the Aakash will fail education like OLPC did, do not take that as a mark of complete failure. The Aakash Ubislate 7 should be viewed as consumer electronics, and as such, it will be a roaring success.

Free Internet access

Just look at Datawind’s core technology, which is all about squeezing waste from Internet data transfers to make even 2G bandwidth feel fast and snappy on a weak chipset.

Its Internet compression technology (18 patents issued & approved) reduces network load, and speeds delivery of content by factors of 10X to 30X. Like the Amazon Silk browser, Datawind offloads much of the browser computation to servers, so just the pertinent web content downloads to the device, not all the webpage bloat that now consumes most browsing bandwidth

During a talk at the World Bank, the Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli revealed that his goal was to use this technology to make the bandwidth usage so cheap that it became ad-supported. In effect, free to the end user. This is the modern killer app – free Internet.

Today, Internet access costs us all significantly more than hardware or software, more than electricity even. Even Intel says that bandwidth costs are the single largest barrier to ICT adoption. And Datawind has cracked that nut.

Just look at the numbers

Now a $47 tablet is exciting. I know a number of geeks who got all lustful for it, who don’t even live in India. And in India… Well, let us read what the Wall Street Journal has to say:

On December 14… the Aakash [went one sale] on sale for the absurd price of 2500 rupees, or around $47, hoping to move 100,000 units over the course of 2012. That figure was seen as staggeringly optimistic, since it represented 40 percent of India’s total market for tablet computers. But as soon as the announcement went all, their call center was jammed with calls, and their website started crashing due to excess traffic, to the point where their Internet provider warned them they might be experiencing a malicious hack attack. Their initial inventory of 30,000 units sold out in three days. Within two weeks, they’d built up a backlog of 1.4 million preorders. According to CEO Suneet Tuli, that reservation pool is now over 2 million – and still going strong.

Just wait till the word gets out that $47 is close to the total cost of ownership in India! If the Ubislate 7 uses the Datawind servers when it connects to the Internet from Africa or America, expect this revolution in Internet access to spread faster than Facebook and Twitter combined!

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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9 Comments to “The $47 Aakash Android Tablet Will Revolutionize Internet Access”

  1. Tim Denny says:

    when I look at the specs on the Ublislate I see a horribly under-powered tablet… similar to the generic Chinese made tablets I see all over the mobile phone markets in Southeast Asia. the reviews i have read on the device indicates specs are low and operating experience is not very satisfying. So you say it incorporates some technologies to speed up data transfer… great… but that is just portion of the purpose of the device. It needs to prove itself through longer term quality and user satisfaction checks. Is it running the most up to date firmware, can it easily be upgraded? can software easily be installed? what happened when the device breaks? I will sit on the fence and wait for reports on the device before I get too excited over it simply cause it is cheap.

  2. John Hawker says:

    The fact they take a far more holistic approach to the problem of not just price, but also access is really clever.

    I hadn’t seen that before.

    I have been seeing a vile PR campaign against this device which disgusts me, so this was the first time I have seen that it’s not just a Tablet, but a network device.

    That takes the fight to not just cost, but ACCESS, that’s the key.

    Well done, I am really keen to see a lot more information on this, and I’d encourage the company to develop more of a open network architecture that they can install into other networks enabling this device to deployed everywhere.

    Can’t say how impressed I am that they took this path, not just low cost device, but how to access networks in hard to access areas.

    Well done!

  3. Wayan Vota says:

    Tim,

    I too was very suspect of the hardware, but only when I was thinking of it as compared to the iPad, a $500+ device. At $47 or less, this should be compared to a feature phone, and then it’s specs are amazing. It’s almost disposable – not great for the environment, but wonderful for ICT adoption. (and yes, you can run apps on it)

  4. Wayan Vota says:

    At first, when this was being touted as an education device, I was (and still am) dismissive of the whole endevour. A cheap anything isn’t going to change education. But once I saw the access angle, that’s when I had my “ah ha” moment.

    Check out the full slide deck and saved video of the WB presentation for more info: http://go.worldbank.org/0RIXUMDMU0

  5. Great post, Wayan. I wonder if these will get to the U.S. for lower-income communities…..Will they be able to produce enough to meet worldwide demand?

  6. andrewjdupree says:

    Great post! As an engineer, it’s great to see a discussion of the values of accessible hardware (even if it won’t solve all the world’s education problems in one fell swoop). Making useful resources more available is the greatest potential achievement of low-cost technology. I’ll be interested to see what kinds of apps become popular on the device.

  7. Bob says:

    i thought they were just compressing data flow, but apparently not. The problem is that if they are messing with the content itself, you get something like the old WAP webpages, which were crappy and not the same as the normal webpages from the same sites.

  8. Tim Denny says:

    Wayan,

    I do hear you… at $47 is compelling and for some it may seem a price which is nearly disposable. Yet my interest is about price/quality not just price – relative to an iPad 10% is attractive… but can it perform the needed functions, is it reliable and sustainable… If not then maybe even $47 is a bit expensive for most. I cannot confirm the cases but I have already read reviews online of bricked units, lack of customer support, poor build quality, and low user satisfaction. My thought then is how much does a reliable tablet of a similar form factor yet with high user satisfaction really cost? I have used the Kindle fire ($199) a bit and could imagine that a kindle fire hacked with Android ICS would be a nice and reliable option. But isn’t $200 too much… when will a device of that build quality come down to $100 or less? I do think that time is near, but as far as I can see the Akash is not there… mind you I have not used one yet… so i am only speculating that it is similar to the generic tablets I play with at the local mobile phone market.

    BTW for those of us without an Android device, you can download an x86 port of ICS or earlier versions from here http://www.android-x86.org/download use Ubootnetin to install it on a flash drive – boot to your x86 computer and give it a try.

  9. sburton says:

    I think that positioning the Aakash as a gateway to more accessible Internet is a much smarter and more effective angle for promoting the device, as opposed to the way it was framed when it was first released.

    To me, thinking of the Aakash tablet as a technical tool to address a technical aspect (affordability) of the challenge of Internet access is much more logical, as it doesn’t claim that access to the device alone will equal ‘development’ or ‘education’. As a result, the question of how the Aakash might be applied (for development or otherwise) is left up to the people best equipped to answer it: the users themselves.

    And as we see from the innovative–and often unexpected–ways that users around the world are already putting existing hardware to use (ie. mobile phones), I have no doubt that similarly exciting applications of the Aakash (for development or otherwise) will start cropping up soon.