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Govt set to cancel Aakash tablet project plagued with delays, faulty technology

CNN-IBN
Apr 03, 2013 at 11:16am IST

New Delhi: The government is all set to cancel the Aakash tablet - India's low cost version of an iPad - that is suffering from delays in manufacturing, a faulty processor and low memory. The new Human Resource and Development Minister Pallam Raju made the decision of cancelling the tablets, which has been a dream project of IT and Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal.

It was feted as India's fitting answer to the iPad and a low cost alternative that was to change the way India's students learned. But the tablet, launched with lofty words by then HRD Minister Sibal, who had termed it as a "milestone recognised by future generations" has turned out to be a lemon. The $35 device has not met expectations and the government finally conceded a failure in production.

1 lakh tablets were to be delivered by 31st March. But only 17000 have been delivered to IIT Bombay, while the vendor, Datawind said another 29400 are in transit, much less than the original target.

The HRD Ministry has warned Datawind with strict action but admits it is just a hollow threat. "The other challenge is productionising it. We are hoping the productionisation happens on time, then it can be available," said Raju.

Meanwhile, Jaynarayan Vyas, leader of the main Opposition party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said, "I am not surprised at the fate of Aakash. It has been a disastrous failure". There was a huge difference in quality between the prototype and final version.

Projected cost was $35, but the final launch price of Aakash 2 is nearly double that. The gadget is also plagued by a myriad other faults.

Following is a response from Suneet Singh Tuli, the CEO of Datawind, on the story:

We find the story factually incorrect and completely misleading. I'm surprised and shocked that you make the claim that the processor of Aakash is faulty with low memory. As compared to Aakash-I ,the Aakash II processor speed is up 4-times to a Cortex A8 - 1Ghz (same category of processor as the original IPAD), RAM doubled from 256MB to 512MB (double that of the original IPAD), flash memory was doubled from 2GB to 4GB, resistive screen changed to capacitive screen, OS increased from Android 2.2 to 4.0 - price dropped from $49.98 to $41.40. So evidently the story was hastily put out by the journalist without having done even a basic research.

While I would not go into any motive, it is obvious that a strong sense of schadenfraude has been a key trigger for the highly regrettable piece. Why else the brouhaha around the fact that the March 31st schedule maybe missed by a couple of weeks? I assure you it won't diminish the project in any way.

The project is very much underway and we have delivered more than 60 per cent of the tablets so far, and the remaining will be delivered shortly. The Government launched Aakash II in the month of November 2012 so technically we have had a 4-month window to deliver a huge number devices.

We have already set up a FAB in Amritsar to manufacture touch screens and panels in the country itself and tied up with others to ramp up the manufacturing of the device.

Unfortunately the blanket statements on the "faulty processor and low memory" reflect a lack of understanding about the product and the content/application ecosystem around it. Thousands of video based lectures covering tens of thousands of hours have been created on NPTEL, dozens of applications for programming and mathematical simulations have been created and tens of thousands of ebooks have provided - all of this by the government under the NMEICT project.

Facile criticism which is based on half truths or untruths may make for good copy but it does a grave disservice to your readers/viewers. Please be aware that DataWind created technological and business model breakthroughs to allow a price point that was unimaginable. The fact that the price point is path breaking is undeniable.

Aakash is a game changer. It shows that computing and internet access can be provided at a price affordable to the 'other billion Indians'. Low cost computing and internet access is here to stay, and will not go away because of the naysayers.

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