Aakash 4 to join the ranks of low cost tablet PCs in India

Will be hard going for it to get significant market share

By R Chandrasekaran

CHENNAI: A few days back, the Indian government released technical specifications of Aakash 4 for getting feedback before floating a tender to determine suppliers. However, given the fast developing advancement of technology in the smart devices sector, there are some concerns about the components as well as some of the specifications getting outdated even before the launch. Scores of low-cost tablet PCs have hit the Indian market in the last few years.

A lot has changed since the first launch of Aakash in October 2011. The Indian tablet PC market is dominated by low-cost tablet PCs that is priced below Rs.10,000. On the other hand, when Aakash was launched, the low cost tablet PC market enjoyed only 10 percent share compared to about 70 percent now.

Though it is not fair to compare Aakash 4 with any other tablet PC, be it branded like Apple’s iPad or unbranded local versions, the time taken to finalize the specifications and release it suggests that it will likely take another five to six months to see the product in the market place. During this period, the technological advancement will be faster and could have the potential to brand Aakash 4 tablet PC as having failed to meet expectations since there could be more low-cost tablet PCs offering similar or more features.

Despite such concerns, Aakash 4 could continue to serve the purpose for which it is developed. Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala of Indian Institute of Technology had earlier reiterated that the purpose of the Aakash is to provide students a good digital device so that they benefit from good teaching. Another objective of Aakash is to build an educational eco system around that.

Given these ideas and objectives, the technical specifications of Aakash 4 include multiple new features such as in-built Bluetooth, 1GB RAM, 4 GB internal storage with an option to expand up to 32 GB, 7-inch 800×480 display, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n with battery back-up of minimum 3 hours of 720p video on a single charge. As far as software is concerned, Aakash 4 will come up with Android 4.2.1 (Jelly Bean) or above, apart from being able to boot from Linux stored on an external card.

The new version of Aakash will also have the calling facility and high speed 4G services support besides driver for phone functionality with external dongle and support data functionality with external 2G or 3G or 4G dongle.

The government of India had launched Aakash in October 2011 with basic features and the cost was to be around Rs.2300. This was later upgraded with some additional features but with the same price.

A committee of four eminent personalities, Dr. Deepak B. Pathak, IIT Mumbai’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Dr. Rayat Moona of Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), N.K. Sinha of Ministry of Human Resources Department and Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT Madras, has finalized the specifications of Aakash 4 and handed it over to the government.

Commenting on the Aakash 4 specifications, Convergence Catalyst founder and partner Jayanth Kolla had reportedly asked, “The specifications of Aakash 4 appear good on paper, but given the past experience, can the government ensure that good components are procured at the prices specified for Aakash 4 so that users can have a good experience?” A similar view was also expressed by IDC Centre for Consultancy and Research’s senior market analyst Manasi Yadav.

In 2012, it was estimated that some 1 to 1.2 million units of tablets were in circulation and this is predicted to reach between 3 and 3.5 million in the current calendar year. Of this, up to 70 percent of the tablets are expected to be low-cost.

Though Aakash 4 specifications have been released, its price is yet to be decided. Currently, Wishtel Ira Thing 2 is the cheapest tablet PC available in India costing Rs.2,999. Except RAM, the features of both the tablet PCs seem to be the same. It is rumored that Aakash 4 may be priced at Rs.3,000. User experience suggests that Wishtel Ira enjoys better followers than Aakash.

There are also other cheap tablet PCs from Micromax, Zebronics Zebpad, Zen Ultra Tab and Amazon Kindle costing less than Rs.10,000. Among these, Micromax Funbook Talk P350 costing Rs.7499 and Micromax Funbook Infinity P275 costing Rs.6699 seem to be going strong. Zen Ultra Tab priced at Rs.5999 is also reportedly among the best sellers list of cheaper tablet PCs in India.

It is quite clear that the low cost tablet PC market has changed since the launch of Aakash 4 and it remains to be seen whether a student can bet on Aakash 4 or other cheaper low cost device such as Wishtel Ira Thing. The government, however, is confident that Aakash tablet PC will help students since the objective is to create educational eco system and not profiteering.

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