Aakash Tablet: Good Riddance of Bad Rubbish

Just as Everybody Loves a Good Drought (acclaimed book by noted journalist P Sainath), everybody loves, or at least loved until now, a low-cost computing story. That perhaps explains why the $35 Aakash tablet story was covered by the press, both local and international, the way it was.

Only one other device, India’s first truly low-cost computer named Simputer, created bigger media frenzy. While it deserved all the attention then, the founders still can’t fathom why or how it caught the fancy of the press, so much so that international press kept coming in droves for some years. One of the founders tells me that he intends to write a paper on this. I am sure that’ll make for a good story too!

As Mint reports today, the HRD ministry, whose ridiculously naive idea it was, is close to shutting down this project. Yes, merely a project is what it was, pursued by some for their grubby little self-interests. That the ministry under Pallam Raju has decided to consign it to the bin, a place where it always belonged, it will bring a closure to this murky story. At Forbes India, we gave it a decent burial nearly a year ago. The story, What Went Wrong with Aakash Tablet, details how the idea was “stillborn” and no amount of clinical intervention could revive it.

One of the members of the committee that has reviewed Aakash for MHRD tells me that the committee’s verdict is: “It was a sham from the beginning and it continues to remain a sham even today despite a few IITs adding their heft to it”. The report is not yet public but it’s the end of the device’s ignominious journey. “It’s not a scam,” says this committee member. Fair enough, nowhere in my earlier writings have I said so.

But before we close the chapter, hopefully for ever, let’s give one small credit to the architects. It at least got the market buzzing. Some new and some established hardware companies started looking at low-cost tablets for education for the first time. Even customers in the US took this device very seriously. “They thought we could supply at $35, we had to convince them it wasn’t possible. In fact, we had to undo what media and Aakash had done,” says an entrepreneur in Bangalore.

While we’ll wait for the committee report to become public, I don’t think it’ll say anything more than what we’ve already said on this site over the last several months.

11 comments to “Aakash Tablet: Good Riddance of Bad Rubbish”

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  1. Any one can criticize a genuine entrepreneurship saga. Ratan Tata was also scoffed at by naysayers for trying to attempt Indica and Indian car. The IIT faculty referred by author perhaps cant even operate a mobile pone decently but journos latch on to negative feedback like fish to water. Akash is meant for India, a country which has extreme poverty and buying a tablet is nothing but luxury. The writer perhaps is unaware that 85% cell phones in India are under $40. Aakash is good device for India

    • Very few handsets are made in India. Also not many of them are advised that they are made in India. Akash Tablet was clearly proven to be a Rip-off of chinese tablets which are sold at around $32 in local markets. The Government advertised these tablets will be made in India. The lot which the company delivered was not working in IIT Rajasthan when they were delivered. Poverty cannot be eliminated by sending hard earned dollars to foreign country.

      • Everything in India is a rip off why single out aakash. Even fmcg products are poor versions of exiting products. HUL a global MNC is leader in fmcg. IIT Rajashthan faculty need to improve their quality to be able to start handling tech over engineering science. Wonder why India cant make anything & its major firms are happy industrial organisations? Its better India allows some people to do some work than criticize and do nothing.

        • Gurinder, what on earth are you talking about? The author wasn’t criticizing the PRICE of cheap tablets like Akash but merely the fact that the Akash in particular was not viable because of the lack of a supply chain and manufacturing facilities for a million tablets. Of course India needs cheap devices that are of GOOD quality. You find that in Nokia phones like the 1600. The Akash is nothing like that. Clunky piece of rubbish, tried it myself last year and was horrified at the money the govt was flushing down the drain on that crap. So let us appreciate genuine efforts at making cheap devices for the Indian market while not holding back words to denounce half hearted (and possibly corrupt) efforts like Akash.

  2. Anirudha Dutta says: -#1

    Not only sham but most likely also a scam

  3. Sunil Purushottam Thakare says: -#1

    “Aakash Tablet”, a device championed by then HRD minister Mr. Kapil Sibal (now minister for communications and information technology) was proposed to provide it to students for a subsidized price. The project was started in last quarter of 2011. After a wide criticism for its low performance, second edition was proposed and got same wave of criticism. And now it has on the verge of closing. On the other hand a project called “Raspberry Pi” – a credit-card-sized single-board computer developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation with the intention of promoting the teaching of basic computer science in schools. The Raspberry-Pi has many features that Aakash don’t even think about. At the same time the price tag for Aakash and Raspberry-Pi (no subsidy) is same as $35. Even the basic unit of Raspberry-pi (RPi) is just for $25 only. After a release of RPi in first quarter of 2012, about one million units of RPi were sold and still the number is growing.
    Then what went wrong with Aakash? Answer is pretty straightforward – It has a design fault, its pessimistic approach, and Mr. Kapil Sibal’s so called lacked tech-vision is responsible for the failure.
    Forget about Aakash, go for Raspberry Pi. Grab it for just $35. I, too had a unit of RPi and its performance is terrific and its GPIO is awesome. I got it for just Rs. 2400 only. For details please visit its website: http://www.raspberrypi.org/.

  4. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says: -#1

    Government supported projects rarely succeed and AAKASH is no exception. The letter a seems to be inauspicious as even AADHAR is not doing well!
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  5. Sachi Mohanty says: -#1

    Clearing, making computers — either cheap or otherwise — or running hotels or corporations (PSUs) is not something governments should do.

    But I wish someone from the corporate world in India would be daring enough to start something revolutionary for one.

    Think of Raspberry Pi or Coursera.

    Is there something Indians have started (and recently please; don’t go back to the invention of the ‘zero’) that has spread to, say, 190 countries of the world?

    @sachi_bbsr

    P.S.: Oh wait — what about Bollywood?

  6. Sandeep Nair says: -#1

    Hope the HRD ministry could have made this tablet possible…..

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