Amazon is stirring the tablet pot with its $199 Kindle Fire -- and Hewlett-Packard turned heads with its $99 fire sale on the TouchPad -- but India is trying to equip potentially millions with an even cheaper tablet they can call their own.
India rolled out what it is calling the world's cheapest tablet computer on Wednesday. The government is aiming the tablet, called Aakash, at college students and will offer a subsidy to drive the price down to $35. There are plans to sell it at retail for $60, according to a Reuters report.
"The rich have access to the digital world; the poor and ordinary have been excluded. Aakash will end that digital divide," India's Telecoms and Education Minister Kapil Sibal told Reuters.
DataWind Strikes Again
Dubbed Aakash, which translates in English as Sky, the Indian government is buying the devices for $50 each from DataWind, a Montreal company that peddles low-cost web-enabled devices. News reports indicate Aakash runs Android 2.2, supports video conferencing, offers three hours of battery life and has two USB ports.
This isn't the first time DataWind has rolled out a cheap tablet. The company launched UbiSurferTouch7 in April for 99.99 British pounds, or a little over $150. That price included one year of free Internet access. The UbiSurferTouch7 offered a 7-inch screen, and as a cellular model with SIM.
"Sometimes providing a real solution to a market segment is ground-breaking. I haven't seen this particular product and I haven't seen what its capabilities are, but you never want to count out the notion of dramatically expanding access to technology," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis. "Price points play a huge part in that."
Still, Greengart isn't too impressed with the notion. Typically, he said, when he sees cheap tablets they are just that -- cheap tablets. And since no one really needs a tablet device, people who are going to buy one want a good one. But in a nation with more than a billion people, most of whom could never afford an iPad or Amazon Kindle Fire, DataWind may see a windfall with its low-cost computing approach.
Exploring Tablet Subsidies
If nothing else, India's willingness to subsidize the tablet points to how pricing may evolve. The Philadelphia Media Network came to market with an interesting twist on subsidizing mobile devices in September. The owner and publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and philly.com is offering deep discounts on a bundled package of digital newspaper subscriptions and an Android tablet.
In order to tap the $99 price tag, consumers must agree to a two-year digital subscription to The Inquirer and Daily News for $9.99 a month, or they can get the tablet for $129 with a one-year subscription at $12.99 a month. Advertising sponsors like Main Line Health, Comcast and Wells Fargo are helping subsidize the device.
"If you artificially play with pricing, it can be a different story, but then you might as well talk about free iPads," Greengart said. "At certain colleges they are experimenting with the concept of every student using an iPad and therefore the iPad is included in tuition and so it's 'free.' But of course you are paying for it. So are the people of India. India is paying for it through taxes."