The Aakash tablet, which was announced in October 2011, by India's Ministry of Human Resources Development is dogged by controversy yet again. Aakash 2 which was to be manufactured by Canadian based Datawind Ltd, is now alleged to be a Chinese tablet, straight off-the-shelf, according to this Hindustan Times report which states,
Documents reviewed by HT show DataWind founders and NRI brothers Suneet and Raja Singh Tuli may have procured these devices off-the-shelf from manufacturers in China for $42 ( Rs. 2,263 then), exactly the price at which they sold these to the Indian government.
DataWind bought more than 10,000 or more "A 13" made-in-China tablets from at least four manufacturers in Shenzhen and Hong Kong between October 26 and November 7.
This is a charge that Datawind Ltd’s CEO Suneet Tuli has vehemently denied, stating that certain parts of the tablets such as motherboards, were manufactured in China and then kitted here. The device was however fully assembled in India, he claims. You can read Datawind Ltd’s CEO Suneet Tuli's full interview to Firstpost here.
While the debate rages over who is telling the truth, and whether the Indian government was 'fooled' by Datawind, there are a few questions that need to be examined and these concern the entire Aakash project, not just version 1 and 2 of the device.
Here's a look at some of the claims that were made about the project and what happened to them:
The made in India claim: This is one claim that can be safely discarded as not true. It isn't an India made tablet. As far as Aakash-1 is concerned, the parts were sourced from South Korea, China, US, India and other countries. Oh and the OS is Android, an altered version of Android maybe but Android nonetheless which has nothing to do with India.
Meanwhile New York Times quotes manufacturers in China as stating that they actually sold ready-made tablets to Datawind. This adds weight to the HT report which alleges that Datawind conned the Indian government. The report quotes
Li Junhao, the president of Trend Grace, a company based in Shenzhen that is one of several Chinese manufacturers making Aakash-2 tablets, according to invoices sent to DataWind that were reviewed by India Ink.
“The tablets we sell to DataWind are ready to be sold. They are finished, ready-to-use products,” Mr. Li said in a telephone interview. He added: “All parts are made in China. We buy the touch screen from a Chinese manufacturer and make the rest of the parts ourselves. We then assemble the tablets into finished products.”
You can read the NYT report here.
Google's Android wasn't certainly conceived in India and far as Aakash's parts are concerned most appear to have been manufactured outside. So yeah, this tablet isn't an Indian innovation.
Aakash 1 and the 1.4 million pre-orders: Aakash 1 had 1.4 million pre-orders, a fact that was much hyped. Never mind that the device had a lot of issues as far as hardware was concerned. It had an ARM11 processor clocked at 366 Mhz, with only 256 MB RAM, which would mean a terribly slow experience as far as Android is concerned. Aakash 1 had a 2100 milli amp batter (mAh) which roughly translates to one and a half hours which is low by any standards.
But such hardware issues aside the tablet, it seems that the tablet never reached those 1.4 million consumers. Looking at the Consumer Court site, you will find several complaints from customers stating that even though they had pre-ordered the device they never got it.
According to this report on Tech2, one consumer, Kaushik D, who pre-booked the Ubislate 7+ (booking ID PM13B0488A04) in April and was promised delivery by end of May, but didn't get device. He paid in advance and sent several emails to Datawind and the only reply he received was "the delivery is started you will be receiving next month."
“I asked for refund, but there is no reply and called them 15-20 times till now, but it is useless there is no response, one or two time they replied it will be delivered soon. Like me many people fell for that cheap tablet name and quick delivery mentioned on their website earlier. It has been four months and I am tired of calling them. People should know about this and stop sending advance payments and fall victim to the false misleading company,” Kaushik said.
As far as customer satisfaction was concerned Datawind failed on that account miserably. What happened to those Aakash 1 tablets is not very clear.
Revolutionising education: The $35 tablet, as it was known when it was first introduced, does have major potential to revolutionise education in India. For some of India's poorest students, the Aakash tablet holds huge potential as far as interaction with computers is concerned. So wherever the tablet was manufactured it still might do that.
The Aakash isn't just a device where students can read their notes or PDF's or shares slideshows. It also brings the Android/Mobile OS experience to those who probably couldn't afford a tablet or a smartphone, even the cheapest ones that are available in the market.
But that claim can only be fulfilled once the device is supplied to students for whom it was promised.