India sets March 31 deadline for Aakash 2 delivery

Indian government is threatening to bring a halt to the country's low-cost tablet initiative if the delivery target of 100,000 isn't met by the end of the month.

Aakash 2 Tablet
Aakash 2 Tablet

India's Aakash 2 project is facing a multitude of issues including manufacturing delays, a faulty processor, and low memory. These have prompted the country's new human resource and development minister, Pallam Raju, to announce the decision to shut down the initiative if it fails to meet the target of delivering 100,000 Aakash 2 tablets by March 31.

The Aakash project was envisioned to be a low-cost alternative to the Apple iPad and designed for the masses, specifically students , and change the way Indian students learned. However, when the Aakash tablet was launched by Kapil Sibal, it turned out to be a lemon. The 1,903 rupees (US$35) device has failed to meet expectations and the Indian government finally conceded a failure in production.

I had placed an order for the Aakash tablet last year but delivery was delayed twice, resulting in a 3-month delay. Once it finally arrived, I was excited and thrilled to finally have my own Aakash tablet. However, basic setup with a 3G SIM itself took longer than expected.

When it finally worked, the required registration with DataWind was when reality struck that I really got what I paid for. Not only was the touchscreen non-responsive more than half of the time, the speed of the Aakash tablet was extremely slow. Considering how I went out of the way to obtain and register a 3G SIM just for the Aakash tablet, I was left with the feeling that it simply wasn't worth the time, effort, and money I had put into this. Since I got it, I've only used my Aakash tablet a few times, and now, it's been packed away in its original box and packaging.

As it currently stands, only 17,000 Aakash 2 tablets have been delivered. The contracted vendor, Datawind, said 29,400 units were in transit, and another 23,500 units were pending delivery to IIT Bombay. This is considerably lower than the original target of 100,000 units to be delivered by March 31. The projected cost for the original Aakash tablet was 1,903 rupees (US$35), but the final launch price of the Aakash 2 tablet is almost double this figure. 

DataWind said it was making all efforts to deliver as many of its second-generation Aakash 2 tablets devices by March 31, according to a status report on delivery released by the Canadian manufacturer. The company said the delay was caused by the verifications process that customs needed to conduct on the exemption certificates for certain components issued by IIT Bombay. Of the remaining 30,000 units, a final assembly is expected within the next couple of weeks and all efforts are being made to deliver as many as possible by 31 March, the vendor said.

Clearly, DataWind won't be able to achieve the target of 100,000 units by March 31 if the remaining 30,000 Aakash 2 tablets are to be assembled only after the deadline. Could this really be the demise of the entire Aakash project, as stated by the Indian government?

In my opinion, realistically, it's the not demise but just the beginning. Here's why: in addition to orders from the general public, some of which have already been delivered, the Indian government has their own order of Aakash 2 tablets which have been paid for, and are pending delivery.

Furthermore, the government has plans to distribute the Aakash 2 tablets to students, and canceling the Aakash project ultimately would result in students suffering the most. In addition, this would be bad PR with India's federal elections just around the corner.