How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

Summary: It's not exactly a $35 pipe dream, but this is starting to sound an awful lot like OLPC, circa 2006.


On Friday I covered the $35 tablet prototype that the Indian government unveiled. Over the weekend, it's been called everything from the "future of computing" to "devices [that] cannot compensate for [India's] crumbling education infrastructure and absenteeism of teaching staff." A few more details have emerged, however, suggesting that this prototype is a lot closer to a reference spec than something that will see the light of day soon.

I started digging into this a little bit further when a little birdie from Intel said "It doesnt add up - the sum of the parts is no where near the whole cost they are claiming..." Not a literal birdie, of course, but I'm waiting for an OK to attribute the quite reasonable statement to a source. Regardless, both the Times of India and shed a bit more light on the device.

According to the Times of India,

HRD ministry has made an open invitation to one and all to come up with more variants that fulfills specifications spelt out by it. The ministry has set up several separate teams, which are involved in bringing out their prototypes...The $35 price, [human resources development minister Kapil Sibal] said, is inclusive of cost of manufacturing abroad. However, the cost of the solar panel has not been factored into the price yet....At the current price point of $35, Sibal said, there would be 50% subsidy to educational institutions, which will effectively bring down the cost to only Rs 750. The initial order will be for no less than one lakh laptops.

On lakh, by the way, is 100,000. So not only is it apparent that the prototype only lays out the specifications for the tablet but that cost estimates rely on predictions of massive economies of scale and local government large-scale purchases. If this sounds familiar, it's virtually the same rhetoric that Nicholas Negroponte used to convince the world that he could build a $100 laptop. quotes a report from the AP in an update to their initial coverage of the device:

India plans to subsidize the cost of the tablet for its students, bringing the purchase price down to around $20.

“Depending on the quality of material they are using, certainly it’s plausible,” said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research. “The question is, is it good enough for students?”

Good question, Ms. Epps. The specifications for this device are actually quite compelling, as is the goal of cheap, ubiquitous connectivity and access to the cloud via devices that are genuinely affordable. As with OLPC, however, the opportunity costs may be too high at this point, as many schools in India (as in other developing countries) struggle with simple infrastructural issues. An editorial in the Times of India rails against the government's approach:

When most of our government-run schools in the villages don't even have basic infrastructure such as furnished classrooms, blackboards and toilets, our officials are itching to bring in subsidised computing devices.

This isn't to say that development efforts for highly-affordable student-centered computing devices shouldn't continue in India and elsewhere. On the contrary, devices like these have the potential to leverage extraordinary advances in cloud computing and be part of both modern, connected classrooms as well as bridging the digital divide. A little dose of reality and perspective, however, is mighty important as we move towards those goals.

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

    Having grown up in India, it is evident that India's economy is growing despite its government while in China it grows because of it. Tata's announcement of Nano was credible precisely because Tata is a reputable, private company. The $35 laptop announcement was made by a government minister. Therefore it is highly suspect.
  • RE: How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

  • RE: How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

    Dear Mr Dawson,

    I am sure that you did your due diligence and your article casts a doubt that $35 for a tablet is not a realistic number.

    I beg to differ. Lets analyze your points -

    1. Info you got from your inside source in Intel - Your source is not denying that it is not possible, but wondering (I am guessing from the verbage) about its feasibility. There is no reason for a chip maker to admit that somebody else could come out with a cheaper processor. Well, the IITs are premier institute of India and has brilliant minds who are capable of innovation. Had MIT come out with a product like this, your little birdie would not have made the same comments.

    2. Quote from Times of India - The quote says that the HRD Ministry of India is inviting more variations to bring the cost down to $20 or even $10. It does not say anywhere that the $35 number is not realistic.

    3. Cost estimates rely on predictions of massive economies of scale - One lakh is not a big number. Just to give you a perspective, Apple claims to have sold 30 lakh (3 million) iPads in 80 days. India has a big population with 11,800 lakh (yes 1.18 billion) people and if we take a mere 1% who will be interested (pure speculation here, but a safe lower number) we end up with 118 lakh.

    I do not know the specifications of the tablet (and I read your article in the first place in hope that your article would shed more light on specs) but I have seen $199 notebooks (with larger screens, hard drive, keyboard, better processor) and the cost of electronics goes down over time. If you have bought a USB flash drive in the early days, you could relate to this - a mere 256 MB flash drive was costing way more than what a 16GB drive costs today.

    Also, I think $35 may not be off the mark, as it is not a commercial undertaking to make a profit out of it.

    So you see, your post is not very convincing, at least to me.

    • $35 USD is simply not realistic.


      From the cost of chargers, batteries, screens (touch components included), memory and other items, the current BOM based on 10 lakh units is over $47 not including assembly and production. Trimming $12 USD at a 1 lakh count while adding in the price of production, warrantee, DOA, shipping and other aspects of cost, sounds like a very very tall order.

      Had MIT, CalTech or USC made the same announcement, they would have been equally questioned.

      Personally, this sounds more like a political wet dream of an over-ambitious
      • RE: How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

        @Bruizer Don't let them see this or they will be very upset
      • What does it really cost?

        I saw the bill of materials that AgnosticOS listed. Yes, it does total to $35. However, as stated by others, anything that is manufactured has to cost more than what the core materials cost. There is assembly, overhead for the building where it is assembled, boxing for shipping, trucks to haul the goods to market. The cost of the core material is a very small percentage of all of that.

        And, last but not least, it isn't much good to have a computer with no software on it.
      • You are probably right

        @Bruizer See this article on the Ford Sync system: <a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a><br><br>I point this out mainly because I own a Ford Vehicle that has this system and did a little research on it. Basically it is cell phone type components such as Arm processors etc and costs Ford about $30 for the hardware. They sell it as a $395 option on a car (nice markup eh?). But...this is with no screen and no battery or power supply since it can run off of the car's electrical system. And I can only assume that Ford is getting pretty good economies of scale since it is the same exact system across so many of it's vehicles.<br><br>Add in these components and yea, you are probably talking more like $100 to make it.
    • RE: How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge


      Anything outlandish should be questioned until proven true, not the other way around. Doesn't matter if it is MIT making the claim or IIT.

      If you look at the links showing it, $35 is the component cost and its a little hazy on whether they actually included all the parts needed (like a case?). That number doesn't include manufacturing, distribution, warranty, etc.

      Add those in and you are probably looking at around $50. Still, an interesting idea.
    • RE: How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

      @john@... 11,800 lakh should be written 118 crore people. :)
  • Really come on. Intel the worst guys to ask.

    Go ask arm guys if it possible yes or no. Intel don't produce enough SOC chips to be worth the time of day for producing a cheep device. No where does it say the device is x86.
    • RE: How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

      @oiaohm <br>doesn't not don't, cheep is what a baby chicken does cheap is your word.<br>It doesn't want to allow me to comment further, so I will add to this one.<br>Why don't we adopt a wait and see attitude? The concept of a super cheap computer is fascinating. If it doesn't come to pass, what difference does it make? I haven't lost anything, no use berating anyone over whether he did enough research or whatever. I'd take one.
  • RE: How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

    @Manas: You say IITs have a lot of innovative brains -- true to some extent but you see the kind of research done at the IITs can in no way justify the kind of breakthrough "Sakshat" is.

    Besides, it is just a matter of time before everyone stops taking the GOI's assertions seriously, the policy decisions are indeed being taken up by people not actually qualified to do so.
  • RE: How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

    Good job.
  • How can India build a $35 tablet or is it...

    Why no US manufacturer could not make tablet at that price level? Or even close to this price level.
  • The powers which be say, "HELL NO!"

    You actually think microsoft is going to allow a device with this potential to happen? Not very likely. This device would make it quite obvious, to millions, that Linux is a superior operating system which can do anything that windows can do, Linux can just do it better and faster, not to mention that it is free. No. Large corporate interests will soon make the production and distribution of this device impossible! Both, software and hardware interests will work together to thwart this.
    Winston Court
    • An illogical response based on

      an emotional attachment to an inanimate object.

      It will do what is expected of it, which may be very little. I believe your view of the capabilities of this Linux based device to be based more on a dislike of Microsoft, then on Linux's actuall capabilities on the above mentioned product.
      Tim Cook
      • @ Mister Spock

        Have you considered getting your pointy ears clipped?<br><br>Me thinks they have grown long-in-tooth
        ahh so
    • RE: How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

      @Winston Court You actually think microsoft is going to allow a device with this potential to happen?

      Sounds like you've been reading too much DaVinci Code. I don't see MS doing a lot to keep people from buying Apple products or installing Linux on their desktop other than putting out a perfectly good product. Why would they send in the black ops team to try to stop this machine?
      • RE: How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

        @boomchuck1 Comes vs Microsoft exhibit:

        (about EDGI) "... an exciting new program to equip the field with a new tool to ensure that we <b>never lose to Linux</b>..."
    • RE: How can India build a $35 tablet? More details emerge

      @Winston Court
      Seriously mate - you need to chill.

      The $35 tablet is expected to be a cheap device to help students. With that goal in mind, Linux may well be a good choice. However, when it comes to personal computers, Linux really hasnt measured up to Microsoft. One has 90% of the market and the other has ????. Linux had a head start in Netbooks but did you hear about the large number of customers who just returned them since they were unable to use it to get things done? The day linux figures out a way to be easy enough for the masses, it will be able to make some sort of impact. Until then, its going to probably play a role only on the server side where some extremely skilled IT pro is required to keep the server running

      Anyways, great to see innovation in all parts of the world. Hope India's education system can benefit from this in a significant way!