Post Netbook failure, race for the cheap to cheapest tablets starts in India

Powered by Android and the Android Marketplace, operators and low-cost mobile manufacturers are introducing affordable tablets for the India consumer.

Affordable and light-weight Netbooks were expected to take the market by storm, that did not happen. Contendor for round two of mobile devices vs traditional desktops (and laptops) is the tablet form factor.

Last year this month, I wrote about how tablets could propel India as an indigenous consumer technology manufacturer. A year later, we seem to be getting there. Android has become the pivot for creating affordable tablets. As in case of phones, companies don't have to invest resources to develop a mobile OS and app ecosystem ground-up. OEMs and operators are instead spending resources to drive hardware costs down and improve distribution.

The past month has seen two operators introduce their brand of tablets and several OEMs are gearing up to launch low-cost tablets. The battle in India isn't about which tablet is better but which is cheaper. The strategy might seem flawed but India is a price conscious market. With Android powering the tablets, apps and basic features offered are standard. Any tablet sold, means a new user for app developers and sales for the distributor.

Anil Ambanis' Reliance Communications introduced a Rs 13,000 (~$285) 3G tablet. Manufactured by China based ZTE, the tablet has the following specs (in addition to the usual WiFi, bluetooth, GPS etc.):

  • 7" screen (480x800)
  • 389 grams
  • 800 MHz processor
  • 2MP rear camera; front facing: VGA
  • MicroSD slot (upto 32GB)
  • Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

Reliance will be bundling a custom R World Online app and the tablet is available with a data connection. Except the processor, the device is a good buy. To promote the tablet, Reliance has an intelligent TV advertisement:

(Parts of the ad are in Hindi. The parallel shown is between sentiments of owning an expensive 3G tablet and Reliance's affordable tablet+3G bundle.)

Like Reliance, Airtel's sister brand, Beetel introduced their 3G tablet called Magiq. Priced at Rs 9,999 (~$219) the tablet has specs are:

  • 7" screen
  • 1GHz Snapdragon processor
  • Android 2.2
  • 2MP cameras (front and rear)

The tablet brakes the mental barrier of 10,000 INR with its price and has a powerful processor. However, it runs Android 2.2 and not the tablet optimized Gingerbread. The tablet comes with a data connection from Airtel.

(Image courtesy Hindustan Times)

According to Times of India, popular affordable mobile handset brands like Micromax and Lava are expected to enter this price race. If the recent rush to grab HP's (now discontinued) TouchPad at $99 is an indication, these low priced tablets might see some traction with the youth in India. Beetel and Reliance have an advantage since they offer data plans along with the device. Samsung officially unveiled two tablets (Galaxy 730 and 750) two weeks back with data offers from Vodafone. Both devices are at a higher price point. While India sees a rise in low-cost tablets are parliamentarians have been sanctioned Rs 50,000 (~$1000) to buy tablets of their choice. One would expect some austerity on their part.