Aakash 2 well-received at the UN; can Indian govt deliver it to the public?

By Kul Bhushan | Published 30 Nov 2012 12:54 IST
Aakash 2 well-received at the UN; can Indian govt deliver it to the public?

India has played a key role in propelling the Information and Communication revolution over the years. India's contributions, however, have been mainly believed to be confined to the software part. But with the Aakash 2, the conception is most likely to change. The ultra low-cost tablet will be long remembered as one of India's successful endeavours towards bringing the revolution to every section of society, including those who cannot afford costly gadgets but really need them. The Aakash 2 could be the device that redefines technology as necessity not a luxury.

These sentiments were vindicated when Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who showered praise for the tablet during the unveiling of the Aakash 2 at the UN earlier this week. Here are excerpts of his speech at the UN:

“India is a critical player on security issues … but you are also a leader on development and technology. Indeed, India is a superpower on the information superhighway. There is a reason places like Hyderabad are called “Cyberabad”.

But we know technology is not an end in itself. The key is to empower people to make the most of their own potential. Information and communications technologies are engines of economic growth and development and can help transform people’s lives.

They are great enablers -- helping people communicate across distances, facilitating trade and commerce and providing better access to health care and education.”

The UN Secretary-Gen also acknowledged that the power of technology could play a huge role in bridging the digital divide. He remarked:

“We need to do more to help all children and young people make the most of the opportunities provided by information and communications technology – especially all those who are still unconnected from the digital revolution.

I know that in Hindi, 'Aakash' means 'sky'.

I want to encourage partners around the world to work with the United Nations to help young people reach for the sky and meet their dreams.”

With the showcasing at the UN, the world has its sights set on the Aakash 2. And now it's highly important for the Indian government to ensure its success in letter and spirit. There are quite a few challenges ahead for the government. One of the important ones is to keep the device away from all sorts of controversies, which have only dented the reputation of the country.

UN Secy Gen unveils Aakash 2

That being said, the Aakash has had a history of controversies. The most recent controversy that surrounded the Aakash was over its misgivings on the provenance and pricing of the device. It was reported earlier that DataWind founders and NRI brothers Suneet and Raja Singh Tuli may have procured the tablets off-the-shelf from manufacturers in China for $42 ( Rs. 2,263 then), exactly the price at which they sold these to the Indian government".

DataWind has repeatedly denied Made in China allegations, saying, “For the first 10,000 units for IIT, and for expediency sake we had the motherboards manufactured in one of our Chinese subcontractor’s facilities And then the units have been ‘kitted’ in China at various manufacturers for expediency, whereas the final assembly and programming has happened in India. We finished this batch of 10,000 units and delivered them to IIT and will be starting another batch of 20,000 units for them in two weeks.”

India's ambassador to the UN, Hardip Singh Puri rubbished media reports that the Aakash 2 is a Made in China device, with marginal value addition in India. ''It was a very poor attempt at orchestrating a controversy when you realize that this Aakash II was going to be showcased in New York at the UN," Puri claimed, adding the government had floated a global tender that did not stipulate the device had to be manufactured in India.

What if the Aakash 2 is a Made in China device! The fact is China is the best electronics manufacturer in the world, in terms of costs, parts, productivity and quality. Almost every major mobile and tablet company in the world gets its products manufactured there, including a number of Japanese and Taiwanese vendors. Read Aakash 2 being made in China a non-issue; so is the iPad.

Another major challenge for the Indian government is to cope with the massive demand for the tablet across the country. There has to a proper distribution system along with a customer assistance service. We have already seen DataWind failing to deal the heavy demand, though the company now claims to clear the pending orders within 6 weeks. Hopefully, the government and DataWind deliver this time.

Since the government aims to bridge the digital divide, there has to be more focus on rural areas. There has to be more awareness, while the price has to be kept minimum, so that most needy sections of society get the device at costs that they could easily afford.

What do you think of the Aakash 2 getting to the international stage? Let us know in the comments section below:

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