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Aakash runs into storm as firms, Datawind trade charges

Canadian company dismisses series of charges levelled by cellular majors

Surajeet Das Gupta  |  New Delhi 

The government-initiated world’s cheapest tablet computer project has run into a headwind. Leading handset manufacturers have blasted Datawind’s Aakash tablet on the ground that it is based on outdated and inadequate specifications, a charge the Canada-based firm has dismissed.

In a letter to the human resource development ministry, the Indian Cellular Association (ICA) has suggested that large and integrated global players like Samsung or Nokia could handle such a project. The association has also offered an alternative — that if the government requires the IP, brand and ownership rights to be in Indian hands, then appropriate partners can be found from big Indian mobile and information players.

The association has also demanded the government put stringent capital adequacy norms, which could put companies like Datawind out of the reckoning for the project. It has demanded the partners have a minimum turnover of Rs 500 crore, net worth of Rs 100 crore and a service network of at least 200 points across the country.

Responding to the challenge from the big mobile manufacturers, Datawind, which provided the Aakash low-cost tablet at less than Rs 3,000, dared these companies to participate in open tenders and come out with a similar product at the same price point.

Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of Datawind, said, “The cheapest tablets made by ICA members are not less than Rs 15,000. Why did they not compete in the tender floated by IIT Rajasthan? They are most welcome to participate in the forthcoming tenders. Their tablet products don’t serve 97 per cent of the Indian mass market. Ten months after the project was signed, they are now finding fault.”

Conceived by the HRD ministry, the department funded IIT Rajasthan, which floated a tender for 100,000 low-cost tablets. Datawind, which won the tender, has already supplied 10,000 pieces. However, there has been severe criticism about the quality of the device and IIT is now planning to change the specifications to US military standards.

ICA has told the ministry that the Aakash tablet uses a resistive touch screen, which is not advised, and is supported by the Android operating system. The accuracy and speed of input in resistive touch are inadequate and the experience sub-optimal, ICA has said.

ICA has also criticised the use of a processor less than 1.2 GHz, saying such a low-speed processor for a tablet device is unheard of. Anything being launched in 2012, primarily on Android 3.0 or 4.0, necessarily carries processors of 1.2 GHz for a good browsing experience. The association argued the Android 2.2/2.3 used as the operating system in Aakash is already two-three years old and is not optimised for a tablet experience.

Tuli challenges these allegations. He says the Aakash tablet has been produced based on specifications given by IIT Rajasthan. Tuli adds they have also given a road map for upgraded products with more powerful processors, better screens and longer battery life, among others, in the next phase. "We have produced according to the specifications of the tender. We have also given a road map for upgraded products. So, what is the criticism about?"

First Published: Mon, January 23 2012. 00:15 IST