A fundamental problem with Aakash (Indian Government tablet initiative)
This blog post is not about how good or bad the product technically is or how indigenous it is; it’s about a fundamental problem with tablets. It amazes me to see that even a journalist like T. Friedman missed it. Anyone who had ever used a tablet will tell you that even the best of the current-generation tablets are for consumption and not content generation.
A bit of history
I wrote about this tablet in 2010. This was before it was named Aakash. Few things have changed since then, they have dropped the name of IIT Kanpur, it is now much clear that the tablet is being made by a Canadian company Datawind Technologies and the earlier claim about IIT Kanpur’s involvement is not true. So, the tablet is probably as indigenous as Vijay Mallya’s Formula One team. Also, the actual price is now 50$ instead of 35$ as claimed earlier. The reviews have been mixed (Vivek Wadhwa) to negative (IIT students). Its also pointed out that ability to install and hence experiment new apps is not present on the device. Some people have pointed out that it’s not the government’s business to subsidize electronics but I think that’s OK since the Indian government anyways loses money on running airlines, hotels and a mobile company.
Tablets are for fun, laptop for work
A user study by Google clearly points this out “Tablets are for fun, laptop for work” in which top activities reported were email checking, playing games and social networking.
There is a fundamental reason for this behavior; tablet keyboards have limited usability even more so on a 7″ screen. Imagine you are watching one of the Khan Academy’s videos and wish to take notes, or wants to search for more info about a topic he mentioned, while this flow would be extremely smooth on a laptop, its painful (even on an expensive tablet like iPad). The much-touted (but resistive) touch screen is also probably the cause of short battery life (< 2 hours).
I believe that Kapil Sibal or the IIT Rajasthan team would have uncovered this fundamental problem had they decide to give it a proper field testing (like students gave to OLPC)
OLPC XO Laptop
While I personally never got chance to use OLPC XO laptop, the reason I would rate it higher is that it has a backing of a community committed to improving it and a keyboard (which kids can use to generate content). As OLPC India head Satish Jha said: “The $35 device meets the expectation of somebody who wants to manufacture the device but not the needs of the users“.