There Is a Lot Riding on India's $35 Tablet

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While everybody is freaking out about Apple's disappointing $200 iPhone and Amazon's head-slappingly cheap Kindle Fire, India had a pretty big product launch of its own. On Wednesday, Indian officials proudly touted the launch of the Aakash, a government-backed tablet that costs only $35 for students and $50 for everyone else. The WiFi-enable touchscreen device is the size of a paperback book, can handle video conferencing and comes with 4GB of storage. Some testers complained that it's a little slow, but did you see the price? The government is giving away the first 100,000 to students for free. "This is not just for us. This is for all of you who are disempowered," Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said. "This is for all those who live on the fringes of society."

The idealistic rhetoric behind the launch of what's being billed as world's cheapest tablet is not restricted to the Indian government. It seems like everyone has high hopes for the potential of ultra-cheap technology like the Aakash, which means "sky" in Hindi. The Washington Post calls it the "tablet computer to lift villagers out of poverty," Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of DataWind who's manufacturing the tablets, boasted to the BBC, "We've created a product that will finally bring affordable computing and internet access to the masses." The inverse relationship between internet access and poverty is not a new idea. Sha Zukang, the United Nation's Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs told the crowd at last year's Internet Governance Forum, "Through both simple and sophisticated techniques, the internet can help eradicate poverty, educate people, sustain the environment and create healthier populations."

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The Aakash is just the latest attempt to speed the process of development through internet access. The One Laptop Per Child program has been turning donations from the first-world into computers for the third-world since 2005. India didn't participate in the program as they wanted to build the solution themselves. The new tablets are all made in India, and Sibal, for one, wants India's effort to inspire the rest of the developing world. "Today we demonstrate to the world that we will not falter in our resolve to secure our future for our children," he said. "Let me not limit the achievements of this great enterprise to only our children … This is for all of you who are disempowered."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.