On July 23, 2010, Kapil Sibal, Indian Minister of Human Resource Development [HRD], announced they would be putting one million small touchscreen tablet computers into the hands of higher education students. Sibal said: "This is our answer to MIT's $100 computer."
Two days later, Mike Elgan over at Computerworld, got his knickers in a twist and wrote a scathing rebuttal which said basically "Ain't no way they will ever deliver it." In Elgan's article he said most of the time Indian politicians make technology announcements to get votes, and their technology is bunk.
Mr. Elgan, we do need to remind you that on October 22, 2008, India's Moon probe Chandrayaan-1 was successfully launched from Satish Dhawan Space Centre. That was a lot better than our Red, White, and Blue with fifty stars, flag waver did on December 6, 1957 with Vanguard TV3. That one blew up on the launch pad. Finally, on January 31, 1958, the US successfully orbited Explorer 1 on a Juno rocket. In the meantime, the Soviet dog Laika became the first animal in orbit on November 3, 1957.
Granted it took India fifty more years to launch, but now that we've established the efficacy of Indian technology, let's get back to the $35 Indian touchscreen tablet designated for their higher education students.
India's $35 tablet - Can they reach targeted price?
Last week, India's NDTV show Gadget Guru interviewed Mr. Sibal and tested his $35 tablet. They were amazed at the performance of the pre-production prototype. The $35 [Rs 1700+] tablet is claimed to have 2GB RAM, runs on open source Google Android operating system, has built-in keyboard, two USB 2.0 ports, Wi-Fi, SD card slot, a HDMI video out port, a camera, and a resistive touchscreen panel.
We recommend you play the longer video and listen very carefully to what Sibal says they are going to do. His claims the Indian government will purchase one million of these devices. They will be sold to Indian higher education institutions for $35 each by the end of 2011. No place in the video, nor his past announcements, does Sibal indicate a BOM [bill of materials] cost, any delivery fees, nor any ancillary costs.
This is what has Mike Elgan literally jumping up and down. It sounds to us that Elgan is a free marketeer. In effect his position seems to be that it is wrong to have any additional government subsidizing to get these touchscreen tablet computers into the hands of Indian students.
Historically, every government makes decisions on what social engineering projects they will financially support. Last summer, the US government [UK, Germany too] had a cash for clunkers rebate incentive program to get the US auto industry back on track. The modern digital computer industry was launched when governments started buying electronic computation devices for the military during World War II. The airline industry has received numerous tax incentive programs since the Wright Brothers got their first US Army contracts in 1908. The fossil fuel subsidies are still twelve times the support for renewables.
Those examples are government choices to change the final outcome versus having only the free market involved in the processes.
iSuppli said the Apple iPad BOM was $229 for the basic model < http://videsignwire.com/ipad-bom-276-for-mid-model-says-isuppli/ >. At CES 2009, we were told the BOM for an ARM-based MID smartbook was in the $120 to $135 range.
Back on CES 2009, this Pegatron MID had BoM of $147. How much the world has changed in 19 months?
In today's marketplace, we estimate a touchscreen tablet with the $35 laptop specifications, would have a BOM cost in the $135 to $145 range. Thus, the promised $35 cost to Indian higher education institutions would leave a difference of say $100 per unit. That would put the cost of the program into the $100 million dollar range. The Chandrayaan-1 space shot cost in the neighborhood of Rs 380 crore [$81 million]. Chandrayaan-1 had very limited direct impact on one million students, long term educational process and job prospects.
Kapil Sibal says in the NDTV Gadget Guru video that the tablet is a vehicle for knowledge that cannot be limited just to India. His final comment was: "May I offer some advice to the media - Never be skeptical of the government, there are times when the government really delivers.”
India's $35 Tablet - Other angle reveals the thickness of the device
We put the chances of Sibal and his $35 tablet meeting their goals and delivering a million units by Christmas 2011 as better than fair, and probably good. The prices of raw material is dropping all the time, while the performance is continuously improving, such as more MHz for your dollar, as well as battery prices.
If the $35 tablet does hit its goals, you can expect these kinds of touchscreen tablet computers to become much like a handheld calculator now in classrooms all over the world.
After all, who hasn't received an e-mail from some Chinese manufacturer offering you a 7" tablet for $65 if you buy 5000 units?
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