The story of the Aakash tablet has been held up as a national triumph but unfortunately, with the latest developments, it seems to be devolving into a bad reality television show high on bitchy bickering.
You might expect this in Bollywood where a director and a diva might have ‘creative differences’, but you don’t expect this in the tech world, especially on a feel-good, education-driven project.
First Datawind and IIT-Rajasthan bickered over the concept. According to Tech2:
“We reported how Datawind envisioned making Aakash, the tablet for the layman, with basic specifications, while IIT-Rajasthan had ‘military-style’ specifications in mind, which would have made Aakash a water-proof tablet. Datawind even refused to put Aakash through these test criterias.(sic)”
Now, it seems that the government has decided to settle the fight. As it moves to produce Aakash 2, IIT- Rajasthan is out and Datawind seems to be in, at least for a while longer.
A clouded sky for Aakash
The Aakash got a lot of attention, mostly due to its extremely low price: Rs 2,500 ($50) for the public and Rs 1,800 ($35) for students. Pre-orders rolled in, topping 1 mn and building buzz around the tablet.
However, as Firstpost‘s Shruti Dhapola wrote when the blockbuster pre-orders were announced:
“The low-pricing has done much to generate public interest in the tab, but it doesn’t mean that user expectations are going to be any lower.”
After it got into the hands of reviewers, opinion quickly soured. Reviewers from the IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, put the Aakash through its paces and found it wanting.
“The main word is basic — and painfully slow. Slower even than cheap mobile phones in India, which typically come with 699-MHz processors. Its limited battery life—a maximum of 2.5 hours, which falls to 1 hour and 20 minutes with video or other applications running—is disappointing for a device that is supposed to be used in villages where access to electricity is sporadic at best.”
Worse than that, they found the build quality was poor. “The touch screen cover was attached badly, making simple clicking difficult, to say nothing of push and drag sequences.” Added to that, the tablet heated up quickly causing it to crash. That won’t do with India’s heat. It will cause it to operate erratically and cause users no end of frustration.
If the goal of the Aakash is to get people interested in technology, having such a poor experience will turn people off rather than inspire them with the opportunities provided by technology.
The government has responded and is quickly moving to roll out Aakash 2. However, as PhoneMantra reports:
“IIT Rajasthan was initially drafted by the government to come up with specifications for the tablet, but the list drawn up was deemed unfeasible by Datawind, the manufacturer of the Aakash tablet. There has been a back-and-forth between the two companies for the past month now.”
As the government moves to upgrade Aakash, it wants to draw a line under the drama that plagued the development of the original tablet. IIT Rajasthan can only watch from sidelines. But Datawind has been given an extension of its letter of credit only until March, not a long time really. What happens after that remains to be seen.
Meantime, supporters of Aakash can hope that the second version impresses users not just on cost but also on performance.