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Updated: August 29, 2010 15:58 IST

Indian hardware market abuzz with tablet PCs

Karthik Subramanian
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Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal displays the ‘Rs. 1,500-laptop’at its launch in New Delhi.
PTI Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal displays the ‘Rs. 1,500-laptop’at its launch in New Delhi.

While two devices are cost-effective, the third one promises to take on the best in the game

For a country full of software developers, India has seldom made the right noises when it comes to computer hardware entirely conceived and developed in the country.

But all that seems to be old stories. At least three different gadgets — all tablet PCs — have captured the imagination of geeks across the globe in the past few weeks. Two of the devices are staking claims to becoming the lowest-priced tablet PCs, while the other is a stunner that promises to take on the best in the game.

The government-sponsored ‘Rs. 1,500 laptop' (approximately $35) was announced by Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal last month as an “answer to MIT” (Nicholas Negroponte's famous “One Laptop per Child” was conceived at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

By a very long haul, against $100 ‘xo' laptop of OLPC, the device ambitiously looks at becoming the cheapest computing device ever capable of running a complete operating system. There are questions as to whether the prototype would be viable for large-scale production, retaining the touted cost advantage. That the country does not have manufacturing hubs for computer components makes the questions pertinent.

There have been suggestions that the government could cross-subsidise the cost of the device to its target student groups against commercial sale in other markets, may be for a higher price. What remains to be seen is will the device keep up its promise of becoming the most affordable computer that reaches the hands of millions of students.

Mr. Negroponte, meanwhile, through his official blog for the OLPC project (blog.laptop.org), has welcomed the $35 laptop for educational purposes, and even opened up all resources of theirs for a possible free collaboration. He has urged the Indian team of developers to focus on its design, making it a fun device for children to use, and in the process killing “rote learning.”

Close on the heels of the announcement of the government laptop, another company headquartered in Bangalore, Allgo Embedded systems, unveiled Stamp, a prototype device that runs Linux and Android operating systems on i.MX233, a cost-effective and low-end processor. So while it is not really a competitor in the retail market, the device could find many takers in the B2B market. A video demo of the device, that sports a 7-inch touch screen, has been put on Allgo Embedded Systems official website www.allgosystems.com.

Speaking about the tablet, tentatively pegged at $50, the company's CEO, K. Srinivasan, said the device would target niche B2B applications, such as smart energy control panels or even for specific educational devices. The company is holding talks with manufacturers and hopes to go in for mass production in four or five months.

The most interesting development from the Indian hardware stable though is the impending launch of Adam, the tablet PC designed and developed by Hyderabad-based Notion Ink. Its young CEO and IIT graduate Rohan Shravan recently announced on the company's official blog that the device is headed for a global launch in November. He also hinted that four variants (LCD and Pixel Qi screens with Wi-Fi and 3G support) would be available in the price range of $399 to $498.

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