2011-10-06

India unveils world's cheapest tablet computer

 India's finally got its much hyped ultra-low-cost tablet, Aakash. The government is buying the first units of the device for Rs 2250 each from a British company which is assembling the devices in India. They will initially be given to students for free in a pilot run of 100,000 units. 

India on Wednesday unveiled the Aakash, which means "sky" in Hindi, and billed it as the world's least-expensive tablet. The plan is to distribute thousands of the computers in coming months to students at a government-subsidized rate of $35.It has taken several years to develop, faced a lot of skepticism and received help from taxpayers given the state's actual cost of around $50.

But the Aakash offers the promise of computing to millions of people in rural India who seem to be living more in the 19th century than the 21st.

"Today we reach to the sky and demonstrate what is possible," said Kapil Sibal, India's information technology and human resources development minister. "Let me send a message, not just to our children but the children of the world: This is for all those who are marginalized."

The 13-ounce touch-screen device can handle basic computing, including email, social networking, Web surfing, online banking, instant messaging and multimedia. The stripped-down system usesGoogle's Android 2.2 operating system and comes with headphones, WiFi access, two USB slots, 256 megabytes of internal memory and a 7-inch screen. It's not considered on the same level as the more advanced tablets available.

Some 19 million people subscribe to mobile phones every month, making India the world's fastest growing market, but most are from the wealthier segment of the population in towns.

India lags behind fellow BRIC nations Brazil, Russia and China in the drive to get its 1.2 billion population connected to technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones, according to a report by risk analysis firm Maplecroft.

The number of Internet users grew 15-fold between 2000 and 2010, according to another recent report. Still, just 8 per cent of Indians have access. That compares with nearly 40 per cent in China.

Some 19 million people subscribe to mobile phones every month, making India the world's fastest growing market, but most are from the wealthier segment of the population in towns. 

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