The New York Times' India Ink, like many other publications, has been following the low-cost Aakash tablet with great interest. We asked the Ministry of Human Resource Development, led by Kapil Sibal, who has spearheaded the project, for his view of how it is going. The Ministry's full reply is below:
The purpose of the pilot project for the Low Cost Access Device Aakash was to achieve the desired price points with the specifications needed for students in Higher Education. That is why Aakash tablets were given to students for field trials.
The preliminary feedback from field trials indicated a few more desirable features such as a higher battery life, better firmware and a faster processor. Hence, keeping the same order quantity and maintaining the same price point (U.S.$49.98 landed), the improvements were discussed with Datawind and it was unanimously agreed that beyond the initial supply of 30,000 Aakash tablets for which the PCB Board was already assembled, the balance 70,000 tablets under the present order would have improved specifications.
These improvements included a 3200 mAh battery instead of 2100 mAh, better firmware and a 700 MHz Cortex A8 processor instead of the 366 MHz ARM 11 processor initially supplied. The supplies for the upgraded Aakash are yet to be received.
To achieve these changes, which also involve PCB level modifications, some extra time was given to the supplier and it is expected that an improved, more student friendly version would start rolling out towards end of January 2012.
Rigorous quality checks are being done before acceptance of the Aakash tablets. To remove any apprehensions about the quality of the tablets, a detailed testing protocol has been finalized and the supplier is also expected to provide a test report from an independent 3rd party testing agency.
We understand that Datawind is also expanding its production facilities from one manufacturer at present to three manufacturers. Keeping in mind the huge demand for Aakash tablets from the students a much larger quantity would need to be procured. These higher orders of magnitude of demand for Aakash tablets will mean that many more players will find opportunities in the manufacture and supply of components as well as the Aakash tablet itself.
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