Originally Published By Wired UK
The entry-level model of the Aakash budget tablet, which is revolutionising education in the developing world, should be available to buy online in the UK for £29 by the end of the year, confirmed Suneet Singh Tuli speaking at Wired 2013 in London.
Tuli, who runs UK-based company Datawind that was last year awarded the most innovative mobile company award by the UK government, says the development of the tablet originated in the realisation that lack of internet adoption in the developing world was not down to lack of internet access, but to affordability.
The education problems in India are significant, says Tuli, and although the Indian government boasts that the country has 219 million students, the drop-out rates are huge and the number of children who should have been in school was closer to 361 million.
Another issue was the standard of education, particularly away from large urban centres. Standardised maths tests taken by children in New Delhi produced average results of around 65 percent, but the results slipped to an average of 15 percent in the poorest, most rural areas. “It’s not that the poor don’t know that the way out of poverty is through education, it’s that they can’t afford it,” he says.
Part of the problem, says Tuli is that “good quality teachers don’t end up in rural India where a billion people live.”
“MOOCs [massive open online courses] and videos provided by access to computing and the internet is the best way to remedy this,” he says. “The internet empowers people in such a significant kind of way.”
Studying mainstream PC adoption in the US, which occurred around 1999, Tuli noticed that it occurred as soon as prices dropped below $1,000 (about £620). Taking into account the multiple economic classes in India, he realised that to ensure mainstream device adoption, the price of a tablet would need to be below $50 (around £30).
From there Datawind set about creating low-cost tablets using low-cost processors that a few years ago would have cost $50, but now cost a couple of dollars, and LCD touchscreens that the company discovered it could make cheaply itself. To make the product so affordable though, Datawind had to create a business model that offset that would allow it to sell the tablet for almost the same price of the hardware. It did this through content and advertising, which meant it only had to make a tiny bit of its money from the hardware and the rest from other recurring revenue streams.
“It’s not just about creating low-cost devices, it’s about delivering the internet,” he says, and the plan is to provide not only the tablet, but at least free basic browsing with it, to be subsidised by advertising. It’s something the company has a history of delivering, most recently with its Pocketsurfer products. In India the government also subsidises 50 percent of the tablets for students.
Tuli’s ambition was always to disrupt the tablet market and at the beginning of this year, Datawind became largest supplier of tablet computers in India over Samsung and Apple, which jointly control 80 percent of the market — although Samsung has since taken lead within that 80 percent. Part of this, says Tuli, is that the high-end of the market gets pushed out as the low end of the market improves; and while the original Aakash tablet was not really good enough even at the low end of the market, the current model matches the original iPad in terms of processing power. The next model, he says will have a similar processor to the current iPad 4 — although he doesn’t guarantee the same performance.
42 countries around the world now want to use low-cost tablets in education and Tuli is determined to show that the Aakash can be similarly disruptive in other countries — hence why he’s bringing it to the UK. “It’s an interesting kind of journey,” he says.
Read Wired magazine’s feature about Datawind and the Aakash tablet, how it came to be and how it’s changing education in India.