Sunday, October 9, 2011

Is 'Aakash' the Limit in Tablet Computing?

A brilliant thing happened this week. India launched its android tablet. It comes equipped, as the Associated Press video attached below illustrates, a color screen and allows word processing, web browsing and videoconferencing. But the best thing is its price: just $35.

Can it compete with the likes of iPad? Most likely not. But competing with iPad is not what the tablet named Aakash, sky in Hindi, is supposed to do. Rather it is aimed at students, not the tech-savvy ones fortunate enough to be born into well-off households but the impoverished students in rural hinterlands of India who unfortunately lack access to both good schooling and technology. As Kapil Sibal, Indian minister for Human Resource and Development, said at the launch of the tablet,  Aakash is "for all those who are marginalized."

So why is the development of a $35 tablet heartening for India? Well, it is because of Aakash's potential of aiding development of India. India, after all, is a nation of over a billion people and the majority of these 1.17 billion people are young. With a median age of just 25, the young population of India will prove pivotal in driving the economic growth of their country in the next few decades. An educated workforce will also provide India a comparative advantage vis-à-vis other emerging economies like China whose populations are relatively ageing. But India is also a poor country with a per-capita income of just about $3100. And with almost 70% of Indian population living in villages, providing quality education to those students in rural areas is especially a challenge for the Indian government.  A very low-cost tablet, Aakash can help the Indian government overcome this challenge by opening the world of the Internet to students who otherwise would not have access to it. These students will also benefit from pre-recorded lectures accessible from their tablets as well as from videoconferencing facilities that could help create virtual classrooms where a student sitting in rural India could instantly connect to a well-qualified teacher or a tutor sitting in Bangalore or Mumbai.  

And because a tablet computer is infinitely cooler than traditional books and blackboards, Aakash could also succeed where many other have failed: making students more motivated to study!