In July 2010, then Human Resource Development Minister, Kapil Sibal unveiled a prototype of a tablet called Aakash (commercially known as Ubislate) and since then it has seen three commercial versions and fourth is in pipeline. The main purpose of this project is to distribute low-cost subsidized tablet to students in universities and colleges across India in order to create an e-learning platform. This idea was well received by many in tech industry and even Vivek Wadhwa saw immense potential in it and so did I.
With time this project saw multiple hiccups, development issues and now with change in governance, to me this project is just days away from being shelved. One of the main threat to Aakash project is recently announced Android One by Google, which was launched today. Android One has been developed for emerging markets with active involvement of Google, similar to the process followed for Nexus devices. Not only that, Android One will see manufacturing from national companies and that is a huge boost to “Make In India.”
Let’s see how Google will smack down Aakash Project:
Aakash devices cost same as Android One without subsidy. Today Android One is available at an introductory price of Rs. 6399, but down the line Google and partner companies will make these devices so cheap that even families with low income will be able to procure them. When this happens, the sole purpose for which Aakash was invented (connecting billions) will become driving force of Android One.
Aakash was never projected as hardware device, but as an e-learning platform. Same thing will be carried out by Android One, but in much more structured and secure way. Android developers around the world will be able to reach next billion people from emerging market and education being the higher priority in such market, will help quick e-learning adoption. Not only that, Google will itself look to partner with non-profit educational organization like Khan Academy to deliver better e-content.
In an ideal world, Aakash devices being a government project should have tied up with another government entity BSNL/MTNL to offer low cost data plans. Instead what we saw was launch of rival tablets from BSNL, showing how India fails to understand its potential. With Android One partnering with Airtel, which already has well established network across many emerging market, will help quick access to latest information to next billions.
The only thing I ever heard or read about Aakash tablet was “New Aakash Version Launched” and with new versions the number of issues with software-hardware got much more complex. Android One will never have such issues and Google will provide Android support for 2 years. Not only this, I see in coming months Android One project launching tablet versions which will mark end of the road for Aakash tablets.
With Aakash project in process to be scrapped, might still find a way to survive by utilizing it under e-governance. It can be a better used to provide digital services across regional offices, or as a hand held scanning devices by traffic police and may be a de-facto for ministers. But for now, Android One turned a government idea into commercial opportunity worth billions.