$40 entry-level Allwinner tablets–now for the 220 million students Aakash project in India

Update: An Anti-iPad for India [MIT Technology Review, March 11, 2013]

Suneet Singh Tuli, the man behind the ultracheap Aakash 2 tablet, says the West doesn’t understand mobile business in the developing world.

We did a study to understand where the inflection point for PC deployment in the U.S. was: when did PCs really take off? Our assessment was that when the cost of purchasing PCs fell to within 20 percent of monthly salary, you started to see them in every home. In a place like India, there are about billion people for whom $50 meets that criterion.

Does the Ubislate come with free Internet access right now?

In India, the free usage model is not in place yet. We have a Rs.98 ($1.80)-per-month data plan for unlimited usage. It is a fraction of what other plans cost, and we intend to drive it down to free.

What new opportunities do you see for apps in the developing world?

Nobody focuses on the problem of creating apps for somebody whose monthly income is $200. Those people are not part of the computer age or the Internet age; most of them are not literate. So we run app competitions in India to try to get people thinking from that perspective. The winner of our last competition was a group of students who designed a commerce app for “fruit walas,” the guys who run around with carts selling fruits and vegetables. These students created a graphically intuitive way of running a small vegetable business.

There are something like five million fruit walas in India, so if you had an app for them, there could be a lot of money to be made.

imageAllwinner is here to determine both the entry-level and mid-range tablet markets of the low-cost but quality tablet invasion coming from China this year. The most potent Allwinner products on the internal Chinese market are the following ones, even from September up to this day (December 4):

This is well covered in my companion post here: The upcoming Chinese tablet and device invasion lead by the Allwinner SoCs, as well as on my trend tracking blog in great details (and with some time required to read all that): $99 Android 4.0.3 7” IPS tablet with an Allwinner SoC capable of 2160p Quad HD and built-in HDMI – another inflection point, from China again [Experiencing the Cloud, Dec 3, 2012].

The current situation of the entry level Allwinner tablets could be described as:

  1. The unchanged since the end of September ¥259 i.e. $41.5 price and market position of Andorra A713 (see above on the left) clearly shows the fact that for a non-IPS 7” tablet with the Allwinner A13 SoC, essentially a constrained to 512M RAM version of A10 with no HDMI output, there is a well established entry-level market in China.
  2. Note that the A713 tablet has a capacitive multi-touch (5-point touch) screen, so the current entry-level is not a kind of cheap resistive screen variety of tablets.
    Datawind, a British based company, visited Fast Company. For show-and-tell, Suneet Singh Tuli, Datawind’s CEO, brought his low cost tablet, which he hopes to sell to the Indian government for as little as $40. The 7″ device boasts a touch screen, an Android operating system, WiFi and a 1.0 GHz processor. For the full article: http://bit.ly/TwLUEl
  3. Such an entry level fact has been confirmed in November even by an externally driven product targeted for the huge education market of India. In an email interview for the new Aakash2, which is commercially sold as UbiSlate 7Ci, it was emphasized by its vendor, Datawind CEO that:

The [Allwinner] A13 has become a common standard for low-cost tablets globally and numerous companies (including Karbonn, Micromax [these are Indian companies] and others) supply based on the A13 chip and reference designs. The touch screens (for the Aakash 2) were primarily made by us and the motherboards were per our approved designs and from nominated suppliers.

At the time of the contract (between the Government of India and Datawind [for the first 10k units for IIT Bombay]), when the Rs.2,263 [$41 now] pricing was agreed, the specs were not the same [see the Aakash2 launch info by IIT-Bombay in June] as the current A13 unit – so it is not correct to link that price to $42.

These kits which Datawind imported included all parts, including motherboards – which were assembled and programmed in India.

It means that parts for all the items were collated together in a kit in China, and then assembled in India.

These devices contain 800 parts from 60 vendors. Since most component suppliers don’t exist in India, materials management and customs processes do not allow for the fast turnaround that was necessary at the start of this project. As we did for the first version of Aakash and then version 1.5, we will eventually shift this process to India for Aakash2 also.

Note that while the Android 4.0.3 implementation is coming with A13 SoC from Allwinner, Datawind has an important software IP of its own which is quite essential in the mostly 2.5G (GPRS) mobile Internet world of India as well as from the point of view of data costs. As noted on the UbiSlate product page:

This tablet is the only Android device in the market to offer Datawind’s UbiSurfer browser, based on 18 international patents.

The UbiSurfer browser accelerates web pages by factors of 10x to 30x, allowing for a web experience who’s speed is unrivalled. Internet access is available everywhere on a GPRS network at Rs.98/mo [$2/mo]. for 2GB.

More information is given in the December 1 article of The Times of India: IIT-Bombay to power up Aakash-2 tablets for Indian classrooms:

Since 2000, the government has been trying to change the stationery in the country’s classrooms. It started with the $10 (550) computing device launched in Tirupati in 2009. Then came the $35 (1,925.20) Aakash-1 device that was touted to be India’s iPad killer (Aakash was originally called Sakshaat ‘right in front of you’) or it’s bigger globally-created brother, launched at the UN yesterday.

As a part of that exercise to “revolutionize education”, A-2 will not be sold in the market. Instead, close to 20,000 engineering students will be given A-2 to build a fuller machine for the higher versions of Aakash. Head of Kanwal Rekhi School of Information Technology at IIT-Bombay, Deepak Phatak, is piloting this project with 11,000 teachers and 20,000 students.

Meanwhile, IIT-Madras’s professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala, who is developing Aakash-3, says the upcoming gadget will be remarkably different. For one, it will have multiple manufacturers with a larger distribution system as the order will be a lot bigger. “There will be larger accountability, and repair workshops in various parts of the country so that a student does not have to post it back to the manufacturer. We’ll develop a product that is more mature, rugged and reliable.” He adds that when A-3 is out “in a few months”, an eco system of applications will be ready, new teaching methods and learning methodologies would have been developed and deals inked with content developers.

Phatak, whose dream is “to see a resurgent India catching up with the world using IT”, is in charge after IIT-Jodhpur director Prem Kumar Kalra was pulled off it. “Thousands of apps will be developed on Aakash-2. I wish to clarify that Aakash-2 is a pilot we undertook to develop apps; the government has paid for them in toto.” The applications and the content, which promise to alter the topography of education in India, will be 100 % Indian.”It’s the human contribution that a lot of people are going to make that’ll lead to change in education.” Teaching methods in schools, medical schools, will change.

That leadership change was in June this year after the realization that the Aakash-1 stage didn’t produce any results. About that failure, never publicly acknowledged by Indians responsible for it, see the How The Failed Aakash Tablet Is An Object Lesson In India’s Long Road Ahead To Tech Innovation [Fast Company, June 18, 2012] article. Now an even wider perspective is presented in Watch The World’s Cheapest Tablet In Action, DataWind’s $40 Ubislate 7ci [Fast Company, November 29, 2012] article where is the video shown earlier was taken from.

Then there is an Aakash 2 hands-on: the $40 educational slate with revolution on its mind [engadget, Nov 28, 2012] I would recommend to watch here and read the related article at the source as well:

as it is noted by it that:

this is light years beyond other cheap tablets we’ve toyed with in the past. The Matrix One, Novo 7 and Novo 7 Basic actually feel significantly cheaper and are quite a bit bulkier than the Ubislate 7Ci and performance wise they’re simply no competition. The Aakash is hardly a speed demon, trudging through SunSpider in 3,767ms, but it simply blew the MIPS-powered Novo devices out of the water. In general the UI was responsive, and less demanding tasks like reading e-books and checking email were pretty painless. Even HD video on YouTube proved to be no problem for this tiny slate.

The biggest problem with the device is its screen — both its touch layer and stunningly poor viewing angles. Often our swipes were misinterpreted as taps, which sent apps and links launching with little warning. In landscape mode held directly in front of you the 800 x 480 screen isn’t much to look at. Tilt it up or down just the slightest bit however and the screen starts to look like a photo negative. Strangely, if you turn the screen horizontally, you don’t experience the same effect. Our other quibble is with the need for a special AC adapter to charge the tiny 2,100 mAh battery. While there’s a micro-USB port along the top edge we couldn’t get the slate to take any juice through it.

The touch layer problems are certainly could be attributed to Datawind’s own technology used for the device, and has nothing to do with the Allwinner related technologies. The viewing angle problem is also one which stems from other place, namely the LCD panel being a non-IPS (or non-PLS in Samsung terms) one. All these deficiencies could be improved for the next Aakash-3 phase when the volumes will be significantly higher and Datawind’s touch layer technology either will be improved or made unnecessary by procuring low-end capacitive panels from 3d parties which could become sufficiently inexpensive by that time.

The success of the whole Aakash effort now depends on the purpose built applications and content which an all-Indian effort. If everything goes well complete solutions will be everywhere in the education system of India, i.e. a student population of 220 million! In less than 5 years! Even most of those tablets will be much more powerful by then as Allwinner is already going to to introduce a next-gen SoC with 4 CPU cores and 8 GPU cores.

Even when the next Aakash phases will have only a moderate success this project alone could significantly increase the future disruption described in my USD 99 Allwinner [Nov 30, 2012] rationale for the naming and existence of this blog. As such the Akash project is also enlarging the context of possible effects of the “Allwinner phenomenon” as It’s a Strategic Inflection Point for the global education as well.


One thought on “$40 entry-level Allwinner tablets–now for the 220 million students Aakash project in India

  1. Pingback: Allwinner interest in 2013 | USD 99 Allwinner

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