India's $35 tablet project hits snag

India will invite companies to bid again for its Aakash budget tablet project, after complaints of poor performance and hiccups in rollout of pilot model.
Written by Ryan Huang, Contributor

Indian authorities are revising their ambitions over the country's Aakash budget tablet project, after the pilot run misses expectations. The government plans to launch a new tender and is also considering raising the price from US$35 to US$50.

In a report Thursday, Indian Express said the country's Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry was looking at upgrading specifications for the tablet, including a "capacitative" touch screen display.

The news daily cited a "highly placed official" who revealed that the ministry had so far been insisting on a US$35 price tag, but now plans to revise the upper ceiling to US$50 for the new version, tentatively called Aakash 2.

According to a report by Reuters, a new tender will be launched in the next few weeks to seek partners to build the computer.

It noted that the
news came as the relationship between the device's manufacturer, DataWind, and its Indian partner took a turn for the worse after complaints by test users that the processor was too slow, the battery life short and the resistive touch screen hard to use.

DataWind won a contract last year to produce 100,000 units for the government, and was expected to be involved in the production of an additional 1 million units in the second phase of production.

Despite reports that 1.4 million orders were received for the tablet, Reuters noted that only 10,000 units have been shipped since October.

According to Reuters, DataWind blamed its partner, the Indian Institute of Technology, for changing the tablet's specifications late last year--it wanted a device that could meet durability standards of the American military for the same low price.

DataWind CEO Suneet Singh was quoted by Reuters saying that the device would be required "to take 4 inches an hour of sustained rain" among other things. "We objected to it and the project has been on hold since then, we are working with the ministry to get that resolved," Singh added.

The Aakash is targeted at university students, and aimed at bridging the digital divide in the country where many are unable to afford products such as Apple's iPad.

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