By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated December 16, 2013.
Get ready for the almost "price-less" tablet. A United Kingdom-based company called Datawind began selling a $38 touchscreen tablet in the U.S. and the U.K. on Monday -- the lowest price yet for such a device.
The 7-inch, 800 x 480 UbiSlate 7Ci is the commercial version of an educational tablet called the Aakash 2 that was launched in India in 2011. But, among other drawbacks, the super-cheap UbiSlate contains a battery with only three hours of battery life.
It also has Wi-Fi, 512 MB of memory, a 1 GHz ARM Cortex A8-based processor, 4 GB storage and a micro-USB connection for increasing storage to 32GB. It runs a customized version of Android 4.0.3, otherwise known as Ice Cream Sandwich, and comes bundled with several apps for gaming, productivity, and education.
When the first Aakash appeared in India, it was generally panned. But version 2 received a somewhat better response and, thanks to vigorous support by the Indian government, the company has now become one of the largest supplier of tablets in that country.
The company’s founder, Suneet Singh Tuli, has told news media that the key objective of these low-cost devices is to provide online access. The company also receives revenue from advertising delivered through the tablet and from apps and e-books sold in its online stores, in an attempt to make up for paper-thin margins.
Tuli told The Washington Post that the UbiSlate is built for the customer who says, "'I want something that’s good enough and functional enough and gives me a good experience,’” but is not a device that costs “'an arm and a leg.'"
But even a price of $37.99 is not low enough for Tuli, who said he wants to bring it down to $19.99 within a year or two.
The company also markets a UbiSlate 7C+ at the higher price of $79.99, with faster page loads for a year through a proxy server if the purchaser is willing to pay $99.99 initially. The top of the line model, the 3G7, is $129.99, or $149.99 with a year of data, and supports 3G as well as Wi-Fi. The 7C+ and the 3G7 also contain a SIM chip, so they can used as phablets if a phone service plan is added.
The OLPC Vision
The very low-end of the tablet market is experiencing something of a mini-boom, with under $100 tablets including the ASUS MeMO Pad and the Lenovo Ideatab for $99 each, the Noria Junior for $75, a special sale of the Dell Venue Pro for $99, and other tablets for even less, many by generally unknown brands.
The vision of the extremely low-cost computing device, first championed by M.I.T. Professor Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) non-profit organization, is rapidly becoming a commercial reality.
Virtually all of the sub-$100 tablets, except for the Dell, are Android-based, and, with multi-form factor operating systems like Firefox OS coming out for phones and tablets in emerging countries, it’s likely that very low-priced tablets will become more common and, eventually, will offer better specs.