updated 01:45 pm EST, Wed February 22, 2012
India looks beyond DataWind after Aakash concerns
Plans by India's government to roll out the $35 Aakash tablet were thrown into turmoil Wednesday after the country's Human Resource Development Ministry cast doubts on whether the Android device would survive the second wave of adoption. Despite hopes of providing a rough equivalent to the iPad for education, contracted supplier DataWind was no longer guaranteed to move on to a second phase of production after a research institution raised major complaints about the Aakash's quality. Early users complained about low battery life, sluggish performance, and an unworkable resistive touchscreen.
An unnamed official explained to Reuters that there was hopes a company could produce better hardware at a similar price or even lower. The Indian Institute of Technology believed to be pushing DataWind to ruggedize the tablet to US armed forces' MIL standards for splashes, shock, and other factors, forcing expenses to go into toughening the body instead of improving the core experience.
DataWind has responded by resisting the call and was hoping to negotiate with the Human Resource Development Ministry to possibly avoid having to ruggedize the design. There weren't any immediate signs of progress, although a $61 version for the regular public was still selling to the order of "tens of thousands" a day.
The Aakash had been development largely as a reaction to the iPad and a desire to get some of its benefits for education without the cost. By subsidizing the price for end users to $35, the aim was to give university students in Indian schools a tablet that could modernize learning, including through e-books.
Quality concerns were factored in almost as soon as hardware details were made public. Getting to even the higher $61 price meant a 366MHz processor, 256MB of RAM, and 2GB of storage, features that are considered below standard even among other economy tablet designers. Apple is largely out of contention given that its American price is 14 times higher than that of the subsidized Aakash, but many of the complaints about the current hardware would require significantly more expensive parts like capacitive displays in order to get relatively close to the iPad.