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[liberationtech] Low-Cost Tablets

Louis Suárez-Potts luispo at
Tue Apr 15 15:35:55 PDT 2014

You are aware of DataWind's low cost tablet, the Aakash?  See and the associated articles and pages. (I believe the Indian government is subsidizing them, making them affordable, or at least seemingly so, to the supposed users, students.) There have been iterations. The first (and maybe other) was not received enthusiastically and regarded as "cheap" and too slow to be suited for much. Indian press accounts were not kind. Since then—that was a couple of years ago, I think—there have been supposed improvements, both in the representation of the tablets (the website) and in the tablets themselves, though I have not evaluated one myself. See, for instance,

China itself has had forays into this field,* but the usual obstacle is not that it's hard to make cheap tablets but that cheap tablets are not very popular, regardless of the relative poverty of the would-be users. Of course, exceptions abound, and a lot depends on the presentation, which is to say, "marketing," or more simply, packaging. 

However, to your point. The virtue of a tablet, over a laptop or desktop, or even smartphone—though the returns diminish quickly when we get to smartphone comparisons—is that if well made they can, in fact, last rather a long time and are, generally, fairly hardy. They also consume a lot less power, and that's important. But it would seem to me a better strategy would be to make a quality product—not one designed as cheap--and have it subsidized by use cases or government investment. A tablet suited for village schooling, say, would also likely work for village farmers and also office workers, and so on. Communication could be via regular telephone connectivity, where available, augmented by physical media: there are ways. 

But in order for anything like this to succeed (and by succeed I mean actually provide some benefit to the users and not just to the makers and ever-present neoliberal profiteers, however goodhearted and Bono-like they seem), it would likely have to gracefully interpolate itself into the extant social and commercial economy. Locals need to want it or see the point of it or at least see how it can benefit them. Otherwise, it would be very hard not only to succeed but even to sustain the effort beyond the initial phases.

I once proposed something like this to a senior civil servant of Kerala, a rich state. In this instance, I suggested Linux powered thin clients (which is what a tablet sort of is like). They would be able to run all sorts of software and could be linked to a server managed by the village or municipality. I thought it was a really great and cool idea. 

He didn't. He said, "Why would we want something cheap and ugly? Even the poorest among us will look at this and see that it is nothing like what the rich have or want and think, this is charity crap. And not use it."

Perhaps he was wrong. I do think we need to move to tablets, if only because their impact on the earth, in their making, their use, their disposal, is so much lighter than any desktop, and I do think the billions to come will want, indeed, will demand access. But then we need to proceed carefully. (For a laudable model, I would point to Cliff Schmidt's Literacy Bridge, btw. See I think that they are doing smart work that can fit in existing frames and then be expanded upon.)

If you do want to be put in contact with DataWind, let me know.


* I don't have URLs. But at CeBIT a few years ago, in the sections where the Korean, Chinese (Taiwanese) and other South-East Asian manufactories were placed there were aisles upon aisles devoted to incredibly "inexpensive" tablets of all dimensions and colours. Whether any has found its way into a school system in any country—and then lasted for more than a flicker—I don't know, though it probably would not be too hard to find out. (CeBIT, btw, is probably the world's largest exhibition of ICT goodies and is measured in square kilometres. In the good old days, over 500,000 would attend the week long event. It may be like that again this year; I did not go.)

On 15 Apr  2014, at 14:59, Sumantra Roy <sumantra at> wrote:

> Hello - I am the co-founder of a new social enterprise named Learning Yogi ( whose objective is to distribute low-cost Android tablets containing educational games to extremely underprivileged children in India and other developing countries. The tablet is designed to teach children topics like English, Maths, Science, etc.
> Given the nature of the target market and the very limited resources at their disposal, the tablet needs to be as low-cost as possible.
> We want to identify a Chinese manufacturer who can produce such low-cost tablets for us in bulk. While we can compromise on things like memory, capacity, processor speed etc., in order to reduce the cost of the tablet, the key quality parameter for us is to ensure that the tablets have an average longevity of at least 2 years - i.e. they must be hardy enough to last for at least 2 years or so on average even when they are used by kids in the somewhat harsh (hot, humid and dusty) conditions that are found in villages and urban slums in India.
> I would love to get some advice from anyone on this list who has experience sourcing products from China and/or who can advise us on how to go about estimating the average lifespan of different models of tablets. If you have some expertise in this, please drop me an email and we can then discuss it further offline.
> Thanks,
> Sumantra
> Founder and CEO, Learning Yogi.
> -- 
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