by Arun Kumar

Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish

Apr 15, 20135 mins
Computers and PeripheralsEnergy IndustryFinance and Accounting Systems

It looks like the Akash tablet project has been put in the trash, where it belongs. Now let’s hope they don't plan to recycle.

The author of this article is Executive Editor, IDG Media.

To say that the Aakash tablet was an ill-conceived attempt would not be far from the truth. It is neither indigenous, nor inventive. It is just cheap—and not just from a cost perspective.

Let us be thankful for the fools; but for them the rest of us could not succeed,” said Mark Twain more than a century ago. And how correct was he. If you are looking for examples to illustrate this statement, you don’t need to look further than the Indian government, which has unleashed many a foolish initiative. And I am not talking about the various yojanas and schemes named after famous deceased politicians (surely there would be many a ponzi scheme floating among those as well).

This is about Aakash, the ultra low-cost tablet, which was supposed to show the world India’s technology prowess and its ability to produce cutting-edge electronics devices on the cheap. That it was just a poor attempt at reinventing the wheel perhaps never crossed the minds of the powers that be. 

To say that the Aakash tablet was an ill-conceived attempt would not be far from the truth. It is neither indigenous, nor inventive. It is just cheap—and not just from a cost perspective. And even if looked at from a cost angle, it just costs a few hundred rupees less than other similar, or dare I say better, tablets available in the open market. 

However, why talk about this moronic initiative of the government now? Well, that’s because recent newspaper reports suggest that the Indian government has virtually given up the ghost on Aakash. Sample some of the statements that have been recently uttered. 

“Let’s not get obsessed with hardware,” the Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister M.M. Pallam Raju is reported to have said. “The overall (issue) is how we enable students. Let the students decide which device is useful.” It’s up to the users to choose the device from which they want to access content, Raju said, adding that the government’s role is just that of an enabler (not provider).

Hmmm… If one reads between the lines (or understands what the minister is saying correctly), it is clear what the minister is hinting at. What he is saying is that it is NOT the government’s responsibility or job to choose or even provide the hardware device to students—precisely  what Aakash was trying to fulfil. 

But, what would prompt the minister to make such a statement? Surely, it can’t be a rash and thoughtless statement. Well, the fact remains that the Aakash tablet project got off to an abysmal start with delayed deliveries, poor performance, and bad reviews from both experts and users plaguing it. To solve this, the technical specs were improved, however, that didn’t alleviate the supply issues. 

To make matters worse (for the Aakash project), the newspaper Mint reported that a cabinet note put up by the HRD ministry for procuring five million more tablets in 2013 has been returned to the ministry and the plan to float a fresh tender and have the device manufactured by some public sector companies has effectively been stalled. No wonder the minister is making statements about not choosing the hardware for the users.

And to add to these, from the time Aakash was conceived, technology has become better, faster, and cheaper, as is prone to happen with technology. Currently, there are many devices available in the market that retail between $50-$75 (about Rs 2,750-4,100). So, if one were to procure say, 1 lakh, or 1 million such devices, the prices should presumably be even lower. Of course, these devices would be Chinese made, but that shouldn’t make any difference as most of the electronic devices are made in China these days. 

And prices are only going to get cheaper if Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is to be believed—and who doesn’t believe Google these days? On his recent tour to India, Schmidt said that a basic smartphone with a Web browser and apps could soon be available for $50, just a trifle more than what the Aakash tablet currently costs the government to procure. 

So, if the news reports about the Aakash project being shelved are true, it is indeed good news. There are better uses of the tax payers’ money. 

This brainchild of former HRD Minister, and the current Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Kapil Sibal, deserves nothing better. On the contrary, this step should have been taken quite some time ago. The Aakash tablet was a stillborn idea kept artificially alive only because it helped satiate the ego of the political class, which could then crow about India’s tech prowess without having contributed anything significant towards its success.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.