Amid the current popularity of Apple iPad, companies around the globe look for innovative solutions capable to compete with the iPad. UK-based manufacturer DataWind jointly withthe Indian Institute of Technology reached the headlines of major media after announcing a new tablet computer Aakash, which is marketed at the price of $35. On December 8, 2011, the World Bank invited a member of Board of DataWind Sunit Tuli to share more about the features of Aakash. The most striking factor about this device is of course its price, which makes it accessible to large masses of population in the developing world. While the current number of Internet users already surpassed 2 billion, developers of Aakash claim they will help reach out to the next billion of Internet users.
DataWind sees a clear niche and attractive market opportunities for its low-cost internet delivery platform. As of November 2011, there were 322,000 individual end-user pre-bookings and about 3 mln corporate and institutional pre-bookings for Aakash. DataWind forecasts a strong demand for Aakash and expects the number of pre-bookings to reach 5 mln by 2012. Sunit Tuli announced that his company aims to launch new products every 6 months. He forecasts that the price for their tablet will go down by 20% on the annual basis.
Developers of Aakash believe that affordability and accessibility are the main obstacles. However, penetration rate of mobile phones has proven that people in emerging economies have already figured out how to use simple connectivity devices, the networks are already in place, and people are able to afford devices within $30-50 price range. Tuli says that despite the low price, DataWind is able to generate enough profit for themselves, as well as for distribution channels and network operators. Interestingly enough, DataWind negotiated with a network operator in India to provide unlimited internet access at $2 per month. Their goal is to eventually be able to provide free mobile internet.
Tuli advocates for the creation of affordable content for low-cost tablets. Another critically important enabler for the penetration growth of tablets, like Aakash, is connectivity. DataWind believe they can drive down the cost of connectivity to negligible. Tuli encouraged the governments to make Aakash-like devices parts of educational curricular.
Commentators from the World Bank noted that the experience of previous low-cost connectivity devices showed that sometimes “where there is low cost, there is low quality”. So, despite the fact that users in India indeed have higher expectations for Aakash than it is able to provide at this point, a device like this can play an important role of starting a new market, stimulate other manufacturers to work in the same market niche developing local IT industries and further bringing down the cost of connectivity. The main challenge for developers right now is to continue improving the tablets to be able to meet the high expectations of the users while operating in the niche of ultra-cheap computing.