India's $35 tablet--how low can it go?

India unveils a prototype for a super-cheap tablet aimed at students. But will it really cost that little once it moves past the R&D stage?

Kapil Sibal, India's Minister for Human Resource Development, unveils a prototype tablet on Thursday. Five years in development, the cheap device is being called India's answer to Nicholas Negroponte's OLPC laptop. AFP Photo/STR

India on Thursday unveiled a prototype tablet computer that would sell for a mere 1,500 rupees, or $35, with the price possibly dropping even further as R&D efforts continue.

Kapil Sibal, the country's Minister for Human Resource Development, showed off the super-cheap touch-screen device in New Delhi as part of a push to provide high-quality education to students across the country. The tablet also comes with a solar-power option that could make it more feasible for rural areas.

The Linux-based computer at first glance resembles an Apple iPad and features basic functions you'd expect to see in a tablet--a Web browser, multimedia player, PDF reader, Wi-Fi, and video conferencing ability. It has 2GB of RAM (but no hard disk, instead using a memory card) and USB ports and could be available to kids from primary school up to the university level as early as next year.

Students from several branches of the Indian Institute of Technology co-designed motherboards for the computer, which the ministry would like to see dropping to $20 and possibly getting as low as $10.

Sibal called the as-yet-unnamed device India's answer to MIT's famed OLPC laptop aimed at children in developing nations, which started off five years ago with a projected cost of $100, but ended up going for $200. In May, Marvell Technologies announced that it would partner with the OLPC foundation to create the hardware for a proposed OLPC tablet, currently named the XO-3, that would go for around $100.

But while the extremely low price of India's newly unveiled tablet is generating much hoopla, the gadget still faces hurdles before it lands in the public's hands.

"This is just a prototype," education expert Zubin Malhotra told Newsxlive. "We need to find people who will be able to manufacture these devices at these price points and continue to develop them going forward."

The tablet is part of a larger initiative aimed at improving India's educational system through technology. Nearly 8,500 colleges in the country have already gotten broadband connectivity, according to the Ministry for Human Resource Development, and some 500 Web-based and video courses are available for upload on YouTube and other online portals, with more in the works.

 

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