$35 tablet ... don't hold your breath

$35 tablet ... don't hold your breath

Summary: You might have come across stories of a guy planning to make a touchscreen tablet that sells for $35. My advice, don't hold your breath.


You might have come across stories of a guy planning to make a touchscreen tablet that sells for $35. My advice, don't hold your breath.

Here's the deal:

India on Thursday unveiled a prototype tablet computer that would sell for a mere 1,500 rupees, or $35, with the price possibly dropping even further as R&D efforts continue.

Kapil Sibal, the country's Minister for Human Resource Development, showed off the super-cheap touch-screen device in New Delhi as part of a push to provide high-quality education to students across the country. The tablet also comes with a solar-power option that could make it more feasible for rural areas.

The Linux-based computer at first glance resembles an Apple iPad and features basic functions you'd expect to see in a tablet--a Web browser, multimedia player, PDF reader, Wi-Fi, and video conferencing ability. It has 2GB of RAM (but no hard disk, instead using a memory card) and USB ports and could be available to kids from primary school up to the university level as early as next year.

Uhhh, reality check time. I'm willing to bet that the $35/1,500 rupees number has been pulled out of the air more as a gimmick than an actual target. Recall the $100 OLPC that actually turned out to be $200. See, nothing makes for better headlines that giving someone the idea that they can get something for next to nothing.

But wait, there's more.

In an interview with Newsxlive,education expert Zubin Malhotra had the following to say:

This is just a prototype. We need to find people who will be able to manufacture these devices at these price points and continue to develop them going forward."

OK, right. While you're at it, can you make me a 52" TV for $50 and a $100 car too? See, pulling a number out of the air and then hoping that you can get people to build something for you at that price point isn't how things work in real life. Things need to be costed out.

Take a 16GB iPad. iSuppli estimate that the screen on that thing costs $65, the touchscreen assembly another $30, the 16GB of memory $29.50, the A4 processor another $19.50 and the battery another $21. All that stuff alone comes to $165. Now, you can assume that Apple are using good quality components, but you can also assume that Apple has driven down the prices as hard as it can too, because it's sourcing components and building these things by the millions.

Economies of scale.

You can build anything at any price is someone else is either willing to subsidize it or make a loss. But your business plan revolves around wishful thinking rather than facts. This $35 touchscreen tablet is little more than a snappy headline wrapped around wishful thinking.

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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  • RE: $35 tablet ... don't hold your breath

    "See, pulling a number out of the air and then hoping that you can get people to build something for you at that price point isn?t how things work in real life."

    Yes, but it has happened before!!
    Tata Motors, India, said that it will make a car that will be priced just Rs. 100,000 (about USD 2100), and it actually made that car, Nano, at that price point. They first set the price, and worked out the cost backwards, innovating things on the way.
    Raju Das
    • RE: $35 tablet ... don't hold your breath


      That's true, but Tata did that by eliminating items that they felt were extraneous (only 3 lug nuts per wheel, non-opening trunk, etc). While this works on a car, it's tough to eliminate the touch screen from a touch based computer, nor can you forgo the RAM, storage, or power needs. These items alone cost more than $35.

      By the way, the Nano was originally to cost under $2,000, and has come in a about $2,160. Still an amazing feat, though.
      • The Tata Nano is just a mini engine in a cheap shell.

        It has has human powered steering (ie: no power steering), no A/C, no radio, basic sits, it has less horsepower than the electric (only) engine on a Prius, and lot of plastic with glue.

        The Tata Nano actually looks like the over price golf car we call "Smart Car" .... but without any of the safety features.
      • RE: $35 tablet ... don't hold your breath


        Also the Tata came from a company already making vehicles, so they had practical knowledge of how to build things.

        The also didn't ask an outside company to pick up the car and make it to a hip shot price.
  • RE: $35 tablet ... don't hold your breath

    It might be possible for them to have the tablet made for that much money but Idk when it would be able to come to the market. Just like olpc which was worked on for many years before it came to the market.
  • RE: $35 tablet ... don't hold your breath

    Big deal? Would you not buy if it cost $70? Come on...
    We are the innovators of low cost, high-end products (Nano Cars, Mobile phones etc etc.). Two more tablets are coming - Olive and Adam. Wait and watch...
  • I already fainted (lack of oxygen) ;-)

    Seriously however, I doubt the screen alone could be bought for $35. The materials for the iPhone is well under $200. The BOM for the iPad must be a bit over $200 or so, with its larger screen and battery. If you want quality, clearly $35 is a stretch.

    With advances in technology and greater manufacturing volumes, I do not think a $99 tablet is totally out of the question, but not for a few more years.

    I think I will start breathing again.
    • RE: $35 tablet ... don't hold your breath

      @Economister The material for the iPhone/iPod Touch do not cost Apple $200. By the way China is selling $99 Android Tablet/Laptops.
  • The whole history of hardware is declining prices ...

    The bottom line is that hardware prices ARE going down. $35 is probably a bit off in the future, but the time will come eventually. I remember when a PDP1140 cost a kings ransom and would probably sweat to keep up with the computing power of a modern smart phone. Who in that day could imagine what we have today? So, yeah, don't hold your breath. But don't be too cocky in your "not gonna happens" either. The cost of computing devices is becoming more and more about the cost of the software. That is the trend and it is long term and fairly continuous.
    George Mitchell
    • RE: $35 tablet ... don't hold your breath

      @George Mitchell

      George, you got it a little mixed up. Hardware prices only go up. Think steel, aluminum, glass, plastic.

      What does go down are those products with very little material in them and a lot of technology, like computer chips, which get smaller and smaller, saving material costs.

      Once the technology is amortized (and the factory), then prices drop.

      The cost of the glass of a screen (or plastic for the cheep-oos) will only go up. The cost of the coating will only go down, since it is almost all technology cost.
      • RE: $35 tablet ... don't hold your breath


        I was referring to COMPUTER HARDWARE, not raw materials.
        George Mitchell
  • $35 tablet ... Hold your breath

    I am not surprised at all hearing $35 tablet. Indians have done it before.. Apart from TATA Nano you can consider Pranav Mistrys Sixth Sense.. The problem is that most of the people are taking Apple or any other established companies tablet prices as a base.. But the fact is that they are making more than 200 to 300 % profit on those price by manufacturing those tablets from China. If china will sell the same tablet.. it would be $50 only.
    • Fact is......


      that you are way off base. Your numbers do not add up at all. Anything costing around $500 after a 2-300% markup did not cost $50 before the mark up. Most of the HW is manufactured in multibillion $ facilities where cheap labor would not work, and the equipment has to be amortized over a fairly short life span.

      Modern electronics are not trinkets. Apple gets the best prices it can and manufactures in China. Still, their BOM is around $200, give or take.

      Cars are different beasts altogether. Car manufacturing is a much lower level technology with lower capital requirements and with a much greater labor component. You can build a rudimentary car out of cheap components and with cheap labor. You cannot do the same with modern electronics.
      • RE: $35 tablet ... don't hold your breath

        @Economister Do you think Apple is not making a MINT off of the iPad. Apple has always ran up prices, for example, compare a Mac Server or Mac Pro to a PC.
  • Really reporter here is a fool quote too many parts.

    Number 1 laptop that run on AA batteries exist and arm chips running on AA batteries is not a problem. So - battery
    Next Laptop that uses usb stick data storage so - storage from the price of the base device even stated in report so why quoting 16 GB of flash. 4GB is more than enough for text books.

    All that is required is ram? 2G is more than enough to run a light linux in ram. Technically 2G is stuff-able into the processor along with the rest of the chipset. Ie A full SOC chip no external ram. Some chips of this class are already used in phones. So yes the could be using a mass produced chip.

    So basically the cost A4 chip would be the almost the cost of the full internals of the device. Place chip on flexable mounting like calculators reduce cost again. No expensive socket or surface compatible casing for the processor chip that can cut 10 dollars of the chip price alone. Reason doable this way is number of wires that the SOC chip will require to send to the outside world. So the chip is about 10 dollars on circuit board. So yes complete internals for 10 dollars - screen.

    Basically what they are producing is a calculator class so the list of parts reads as follows.
    1 SOC chip containing wifi, 2G ram, Video controller with touch support, USB port controller. Lot simpler than a lot of SOC chips. Yes they still could be room for 1G of flash in SOC. This chip could be cheaper than the A4 due to not including a lot of things the A4 does and due to being able to produce smaller now so less silicon required..
    1 cam chip.
    1 touch screen.
    1 case
    1 battery housing.
    Some usb ports.

    I can see how the device can be built and ready for use for about 100 dollars. Yes after you add the storage and the batteries and the battery charger. Note I just said battery charger. Nothing says the device has to contain that.

    Ie solar power option. A solar battery charger external.

    Case and cam are about 5 dollars worth of stuff. Big thing I want to know where are they getting a touch screen for about 10 dollars or what short cut to make a touch screen are they taking.

    Finally big thing over looked will the be using latest generation or will they be using factories that are now throw away. Ie older screen production and older chip production.

    Remember the calculator class device has got more and more like a computer ever year and keeping the price point around the 20 USD. Sooner or latter a computer has to appear at that price point. If this is it. It a little sooner than I expected.
    • RE: $35 tablet ... don't hold your breath

      @oiaohm A Calulator is a computer. First, cooling is a HUGE problem. Second, Solar power does not provide enough power to work for this. Third, Have you ever use a old ARM or MIPS based PDA, Which is not powerful enough to power a watch these days. If you want a device like this look at a TI Graphing Calculator. If you want a device that is usable as a PDA look at an Android based tablet
  • ever heard of the Nano?

    Really it is inevitable that a computer such as this will be available at that price.
  • RE: $35 tablet ... don't hold your breath

    Such sinicism... It is a task to find a manufacturer willing to pay a "reasonable" price to make something, at least in the US it is.

    So for consumer-level purchase it liekly will not happen. What this has advantage of is the fact that it was R&D'd by students and not some over-paid engineer who vacations more than he works and makes more than upper-average people.

    That is no matter though, a manufacturer will likely pickup the tab to make these at least for education purposes. Various companies sponsor such projects, such as the PC's at my daughters' school are donated/provided by Microsoft and I am sure if they had a (cheaper) $35 option they would look more toward it. Software licensing is usually not an issue when dealing in education, except Adobe which is a different matter I have with them.

    A lot of potential and given it is designed by engineering students I can imagine it uses less-advanced components than a modern laptop or touchpad. It will be interesting to see how it pans out, I am guessing we will see them, but after retail markup no doubt consumers could expect to pay around 300% of cost. I would suspect parts costs to be around $35, maybe another $15 for assembly and shipping costs, then retail markup to $135, or about $270% markup. Should be interesting to see if it pans out nonetheless.
  • I dunno

    If the screen is a single touch interface (allowing for Morse Code based keyboard) you might get a reasonable sized screen. Say 4-5" at that nice price.

    Could require etch a sketch type interface and processor though.

    Still, if your expectations are low, we should be doing well at that price
  • good idea about android

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